Clause 8

Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:30 am on 13 July 2006.

Alert me about debates like this

Person not to engage in regulated activity unless subject to monitoring

Amendment made: No. 145, in clause 8, page 4, line 24, after ‘1(4)’ insert ‘or (5A)’.—[Mr. Dhanda.]

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

I beg to move amendment No. 1, in clause 8, page 4, line 38, at end insert—

‘(c) a Further Education Institution (within the meaning of section 140(3) of the Education Act 2002 (c. 32)).’.

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

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 137, in clause 8, page 4, line 38, at end insert—

‘(c) a residential health institution which is exclusively or partly for the provision of health care or rehabilitation to children.’.

No. 114, in clause 8, page 4, line 38, at end insert—

‘(c) a military training or educational establishment with recruits and trainees under 18.’.

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

There are three amendments in the group, one of which was tabled by Conservative Front-Bench Members, and one of which has joint support. The principle behind them is the same. They deal with the question whether the categories of establishments in which the relevant regulated activity is carried out are broadly enough defined. Of course the issue arises of whether to confine the provisions to cover those most at risk or whether to cast the net further. I think it is important to ensure that we assess the risks in more educational and health institutions than are set out in the Bill.

Amendment No. 1 ties in with amendment No. 2; it could almost be a computer cut-and-paste, as the two amendments together would transfer further education institutions from the provisions on controlled activity to the provisions on regulated activity. I raised the issue on Second Reading in an intervention. I could not see that there should be a distinction between further education establishments and schools, in the matter of ancillary workers, given the 14-to-19 agenda. That encourages the idea, which I support, that children will move between institutions, fully engaging in their new curriculum and studying in different contexts. What on earth will be the difference, as the agenda extends?

My local further education establishment has an enormous array of special educational needs courses. It is the usual route from a special school to the local college and is promoted the most for younger people with special needs. We could argue that it is promoted for vulnerable children more than for others. I do not understand why further education should be included in that section. The response that I received from the Minister for Children and Families on Second Reading was that we should scrutinise such issues in Committee.

Photo of Judy Mallaber Judy Mallaber Labour, Amber Valley 9:45, 13 July 2006

It is obviously difficult to know what should and should not be in the Bill. It would be helpful to learn whether the hon. Lady is asking for more areas to be included in regulated activity, given that she has said previously that we might be including too many areas. I realise that it is difficult to strike a balance, but is she asking for more regulation or saying that we already have too many regulated activities?

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

Further education colleges are included in the Bill. At present, they are in the controlled activity area, presumably on the basis that a large number of further education students are over 18 years old. However, we are on the cusp of a change with the 14 to 19 agenda, and children will move interchangeably between colleges and schools, so there should be a regulated activity aspect. For example, the school caretaker or the college site manager should be subject to the same degree of checking and barring as those in regulated activity. A lot of the Bill stems from the Ian Huntley case when a school caretaker was not  subject to the same checks as a school teacher. With a controlled activity, the catering people, site managers and others in a further education college will be treated differently from those at a school. I should like the Minister to respond to such matters. I am talking about the difference of treatment of ancillary workers.

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

My hon. Friend may recall that, when I raised the matter in response to the statement that the Secretary of State made on the Audit Commission report, he undertook to look at it. I have not heard from him, so it would be helpful if the Minister could explain why FE has been treated slightly differently.

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

I thank my hon. Friend. I recall clearly the important statement made by the Secretary of State about the Ofsted inspection and how staff were being checked. There was a positive response to her suggestion that, as we move to the 14 to 19 agenda, further education colleges should be treated exactly the same as schools.

The amendment picks up a point that has been made on the Conservative Benches about checks on members of governing bodies. As the Bill is drafted, governors of further education colleges are not checked in the same way as governors of schools. That is why the amendment is necessary. I remind members of the Committee that I am concerned not only about the 14 to 19 agenda but about particularly vulnerable young people with special needs at colleges, and as long as they can still receive funding, there will also be adults with learning disabilities continuing with their courses at further education colleges.

The area that we are discussing is important. I hope that the Minister will make a positive response. Furthermore, I hope that I have made it crystal clear why I suggest this simple movement of category. We must take on board the nature of a further education college in the 21st century. It may have been reasonable in the past to treat further education colleges as the Bill does, but I do not think that it is now.

I support amendment No. 137, but I will leave comments on it to others. We tabled amendmentNo. 114 in response to the excellent speech by thehon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) on Second Reading. I asked her whether she would mind if I tabled an amendment, and I spoke to her this morning on the way here to explain what I intended to say. I want to make it clear that I am not trying to steal anyone’s thunder. I was extremely moved by her speech on Second Reading, and it was noticeable that the Minister, in summing up the debate, did not provide any answers in this area, so I very much want it to be considered in detail in Committee.

This is an important area: many families have experienced heartbreaking situations. It is easy to say, “Oh, that involves the Ministry of Defence; it has nothing to do with this,” but the Bill is designed to safeguard vulnerable groups of people and that should include raw recruits, if I can put it that way, who are under 18. I am talking about young people who probably have not left home and may not have experienced the wider world until they entered a military education or training establishment.

The hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood spoke as chair of the newly established all-party group on Army deaths. She said:

“I am acutely aware of the pain and anger that arises from the suspicion that those with responsibility for the care of children fail to protect young recruits from sexual abuse.”—[Official Report, 19 June 2006; Vol. 447, c. 1106.]

She gave a particularly telling quotation from the inquiry and review carried out by Nicholas Blake QC on the tragic deaths at Deepcut barracks. As she said, at the close of the review recommendation 12 states:

“Instructors should be vetted for their suitability to work with young people, applying standards that are no less rigorous than those applied to civilian establishments educating or training people under 18.”

As the hon. Lady said, the Bill is intended to provide proper arrangements for vetting people working with children and barring those who are unsuitable, so we are asking why on earth military establishments should be excluded from it. As she also said, child abuse cases in schools and the outcry about staff not being subject to enhanced Criminal Records Bureau checks concern all parents, but the Deepcut and Beyond families point out that problems also exist in military training establishments. I understand that non-commissioned officers and civilian staff are not subject to Criminal Records Bureau disclosures of any kind. That is absolutely shocking. No parent who is passing over their child to be cared for, in a sense—someone else is to take on the parental responsibility—can have any idea that that is the situation, and the issue is not only that checks are not made, but that there are outcomes from that. The hon. Lady went on to give a number of examples from parents who were totally bewildered to discover that the checks were not made. That is absolutely incredible, which is why her speech was so moving.

I dipped a little further into the Deepcut review by Nicholas Blake QC and I picked up another paragraph, with which I shall conclude my remarks on the amendment:

The Review recommends that the Army applies, as a matter of best practice, no less rigorous checks on the background of its instructors who will supervise recruits and trainees under 18 than would apply in civilian life, particularly in a residential boarding school. Such information could no doubt be accessed through RMP files and personnel records. If the present state of the law proves an obstacle, the Review would recommend that military service is identified as an exception to the position of employers generally.”

Hon. Members can dig that strong recommendation out from the Deepcut review. We have a duty to consider this important exclusion from the Bill and the lack of checks that has resulted in some dreadful outcomes.

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

I must draw attention to an error in the amendment paper: the names of the hon. Members for St. Albans (Anne Main) and for Reading, East (Mr. Wilson) have been mistakenly added to amendments Nos. 137 and 114. I apologise for that; their names will be withdrawn. They do not sign blank cheques either.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole feels deflated because she does not have the support of my hon. Friends the  Members for St. Albans and for Reading, East, whose names were added to her amendments in error. I shall mention her amendment before talking to amendment No. 137, correctly tabled in my name and that of my hon. Friends.

I have some sympathy with amendment No. 1, which goes to the heart of the problem of when children stop being children—particularly those with learning disabilities for whom special provisions need to be made when they reach 18 but will continue in various educational or support establishments. It is an anomaly why governors of such establishments, which deal with vulnerable people, are not covered by the Bill, whereas governors of other educational institutions are. I am confused about why the explanatory notes do not say what subsections (3), (4) or (5) are intended to achieve and why certain things have been left out of them. I have some sympathy with including additional educational institutions that the hon. Lady mentioned. I am interested in hearing what the Minister has to say in defence of keeping them out.

I have less sympathy with the hon. Lady’s amendment No. 114, although I endorse all her comments about the telling speech made by the hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood. Problems with recruits in certain Army barracks are rightly the subject of ongoing investigations. The people responsible for those institutions need to get their act together and provide assurances to the House, those serving and those who may be considering serving in the forces. However, although I am not trying to pre-empt the Minister, the way in which the hon. Lady’s amendment is phrased could cause great confusion. She refers to

“a military training or educational establishment with recruits and trainees under 18”,

but because the Army can recruit from the age of 17, that would presumably mean that an entire training or educational establishment that takes on recruits, including senior Army people who happen to be part of it, would be subject to all the vetting and barring. Under no definition could those recruits be construed as vulnerable adults. Indeed, if they could be, what place would they have performing such a potentially dangerous task as serving in the military?

Photo of Kali Mountford Kali Mountford PPS (Rt Hon Des Browne, Secretary of State), Ministry of Defence

I take the hon. Gentleman’s point, but is it not also the case that the Armed Forces Bill, which is currently proceeding through the House, includes measures for the protection of new recruits to all the armed forces? Those who are under 18 would receive special protection under the provisions of that Bill, so the amendment is not necessary.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children) 10:00, 13 July 2006

I am not as familiar with that piece of legislation as the hon. Lady is, but it is greatly reassuring that it includes those checks and balances. They will remove the requirement for the amendment in its current form, which has enormous implications for a raft of military institutions that it is not intended to cover but that happen to take on a small number of recruits at the age of 17. As specific provisions of a dedicated Bill can be applied to them, the hon.  Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole might wish to reconsider the amendment.

Our amendment No. 137 is a probing amendment, which was largely instigated because the explanatory notes are unclear on what is covered under the definitions of “establishments”, in clause 8(5), and the governing bodies of such establishments. I want to give just one example of where an establishment might fall between two stools.

I recently visited a fantastic charity-run establishment in Surrey, a residential establishment looking after young people with severe learning and physical disabilities. Most of them were in wheelchairs and most had profound learning disabilities. The charity, which has been running for many years and is connected with Great Ormond Street, provides a fantastic, unparalleled service to those young people. Alas, there are not enough institutions like that.

That charity is not strictly

“an educational institution which is exclusively or mainly for the provision of full-time education to children”,

as specified by subsection (5)(a), however. By their very nature, those young people could not have full-time education. It is difficult to define a lot of their classroom time as education in the sense that we might understand. A lot of their daytime is spent on more therapeutic, health and other caring services, which is not strictly education. Some fantastic educational work is certainly done, giving skills to those young people in their disadvantaged circumstances, but such an institution would not necessarily fall within the definition in the clause.

I should make it clear that I have nothing but praise for that institution. I have absolutely no reason to think that anything bad goes on there, but there could be similar places, to which certain individuals might be able to find their way and have access to physically and mentally vulnerable children, whom they could then take advantage of. The purpose of amendment No. 137 is to add residential health institutions to the list of establishments in subsection (5), because places such as the one that I have described fall between a healthand therapeutic establishment and an educational establishment.

Amendment No. 137 is not phrased in the best way, and I am sure that the Minister has all sorts of criticisms based on the unintended consequences that it could cause. The point of it, however, is to ask him to reconsider the phrasing of the definition in the clause, because there is no clarification about that in the explanatory notes. Strictly speaking, some institutions would not be covered by that, so some people with bad intentions could gain access to a governing body and not be subject to some of the barring and vetting procedures to which they would be subject under other provisions in the Bill. Will the Minister look again at the definitions or give some reassurance that such establishments are covered by other definitions in the Bill that are not made clear in the clause?

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

The amendments extend the definition of regulated activity in relation to children to governors of further education institutions, military training or educational establishments and residential health institutions.

The Bill provides already that governors of institutions, primarily for the full-time education of children and of maintained nursery schools, must be subject to monitoring and requirements to check. So the bar will apply because the role of governor places the individual in a position of trust and gives them the opportunity of contact with children, and a role in appointing staff with significant contact with children.

Governors of FE institutions delivering full-time education, mainly or exclusively to children, will be subject to those requirements. Furthermore, if a governor of an FE institution teaches or supervises children frequently, or carries out another activity mentioned in paragraph 2(1) of schedule 3, he will be engaging in regulated activity and the same requirements will apply.

Hon. Members must ask themselves whether they want a catch-all system in which, for example, the instructor of an adult pottery class will be barred from running that class because they are on the children’s list. That would be the consequence of the amendment saying that all FE institutions should be treated the same.

I am sympathetic to the argument about the changing role of FE institutions, which is why they are included as controlled activity providers. Principals in FE institutions can put those safeguards in place using common sense and with an awareness of their staff and those in regular contact with children.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

I am still slightly confused by what the Minister is saying. He has given examples of part-time or voluntary pottery teachers, but subsection (3) refers only to members of a governing body of specific establishments, so I am not sure why his comments are relevant.

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

I am digressing and responding to the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole who asked specifically about further education and regulated activity. However, I hope that I explained also the point about governors during my contribution. I hope that I made that clear, but I am happy to reiterate the point if I did not.

Amendment No. 1 would capture governors of all FE institutions, including those working at a working men’s college, for example, who deliver exclusively adult education, and place a duty on some institutions and governors when clearly inappropriate. The Bill should be proportionate. I accept that, as the hon. Lady said, the role of those institutions can change. If the roles change, activities considered regulated and controlled can change also. However, we want to get it right for the situation as it is at the moment.

Photo of Anne Main Anne Main Conservative, St Albans

May I seek clarification? I understood that governors were covered because possibly they have some control over the appointment of staff. Would that view extend to trustees of charities that work with vulnerable children, which will have some control also over the appointment of staff and so have a similar role to such governors? As the Minister mentioned, very few governors teach  children, but they do have control over the staffing and running of the school. Very few indulge in teaching, particularly as many are appointed by councils, which they represent. In that case, should we considering a wider pool of the people who have anything to do with appointments for vulnerable children or adults?

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

I am trying to stay as close as I can to the amendments. Some governors do have a role in selecting staff, which is why it is particularly important that they should be involved. The wider roles that the hon. Lady mentioned are covered in other parts of the Bill. I am happy to drop her a note about trustees if she wishes to follow it up.

I move to amendment No. 114, because it is important. The amendment refers to military training establishments, which do not have governing bodies, as they are under the control of a commanding officer. Unlike schools, they deliver training and education to adults, which includes 16 and 17-year-olds serving in the armed forces. Unlike other organisations in which individuals work with 16 and 17-year-olds in the course of the child’s employment, the armed forces will be specifically allowed by the Bill to check the scheme status of those who supervise or train under-18s. I hope that that satisfies some of the legitimate concerns of the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole.

Amendment No. 137 would make it mandatory for governors of residential health institutions that provide children’s health care to be subject to monitoring. Not all health institutions have governors, and the governors of those that do might have no contact with children or any role in appointing staff. The Bill already requires governors of residential health institutions who frequently care for, supervise or carry out another activity mentioned in schedule 3(2)(1) to be subject to monitoring. We have carefully considered such settings. I hope that, taking all that into consideration, hon. Members will not press their amendments.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

Perhaps I might respond on amendment No. 137. I am not entirely convinced by what the Minister said. He did not respond to the specific example that I gave. The amendment is designed not to cover various health institutions that happen to have governors but to expand the definition of an educational establishment that does not offer full-time education, as the clause puts it, “exclusively or mainly”.

The example that I gave might be rare, but there will be such examples. I do not think that the institution involved could be classified—one could certainly make a strong case that it should not be—as being

“exclusively or mainly for the provision of full-time education”.

There appears to be a kind of halfway house, which falls between two stools, that provides education but predominantly provides care, therapy and therapeutic services to severely mentally and physically disabled young people. I do not think that the Bill covers the governors of such institutions, which could be run as small private charities not subject to the normal attention from the local education authority, for example. We need to ensure that people cannot effectively hide in just that sort of institution, obtain a position of responsibility and then abuse.

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

I assure the hon. Gentleman that where the staff have the regular contact with children that he describes, they will be covered under regulated activity.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

I am grateful and not surprised by that assurance. The Minister is discussing staff, but the clause deals with governors. However, I just wanted to place that thought in his mind. The definitions are broad, and certain institutions that deal with the most vulnerable children will not necessarily be covered.

Both Ministers seem to want to contribute at this point.

Photo of Ivan Lewis Ivan Lewis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health) (Care Services) 10:15, 13 July 2006

This is an important issue in terms of places where vulnerable adults are being cared for on a full-time basis. There might be ambiguity about whether they are in education, care or a combination of the two. The term “governor” is quite important. An educational institution is likely to be run by a board of governors. If it were more of a care-type institution, it is more likely that the equivalent would be charitable trustees or a board of people of that nature. Therefore the term “governors” is generally understood in the context of an organisation predominantly providing education, whereas if it were predominately about care, it would either be a board of management or a group of trustees.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

I take the Minister’s point but he said “more likely” and “generally”, not exclusively. That leaves a raft of institutions that may not be covered. We need to ensure that all of them are covered. He refers purely to governors. As my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans said, there are organisations run by other classes of people who are not governors. The reference is only to members of the governing body. Does that include charitable trustees or directors of, for example, a charitable company?

I am a director of a charitable company that is considering taking over the management of an arts education facility, which has been provided as a section 106 gain to the local authority. I wonder—now I think about it—whether I would be covered. I am part of the governing body but I am not a governor. We are not offering mainly, or exclusively, full-time education to children. However, I will be in a position, if we take over management of that facility, to engage members of staff—who may or may not be subject to vetting procedures—who will be opening up the premises and involved with children. That is part of our charitable trust remit. On the basis of what is in this Bill, I am not sure whether I and fellow directors of this charitable company, who are the governing body effectively, will be covered. Therefore, many anomalies are still creeping in—which the Minister is now going to allay.

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

When I write to the hon. Member for St. Albans—I will copy in the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham—I will clarify where it is in the Bill. What I can confirm is that if he is a trustee of a charity and that charity is involved in regulated activity, he too will be covered.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

Strictly speaking, I am a director of a charitable company limited by guarantee. I am not strictly speaking a trustee. Am I covered on that basis? I am directly covered as a director of a charitable company. The Minister is indicating that he believes so. It has gone from yes to believe so.

The point is that there are many question marks being thrown up. That is not helped by the fact that there is no mention of any of this in the explanatory notes, which are particularly brief in this area. I will not press my amendment to a Division: in any case, it is not the lead amendment. I will defer to the Liberal Democrats on that.

However, we need some extra clarification. It might come in one of the many letters that the Minister has been promising to myself and other Committee members all week—he is going to have a very full list and we are going to have full postbags. Some more thought needs to be given to that and some clarification, if not some amendments, needs to be introduced on Report. Does he wish to intervene before I sit down? Otherwise I will say my piece and hand over to the Liberal Democrats.

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

On further education, I can envisage a situation in which one might, for example, reach40 per cent. as the total proportion of students at an FE college who are under 18, or under 16, or who have special needs or who are adults with learning disabilities. It would easy to reach that 40 per cent. mark. We might say that there should be a majority, but a significant minority would be just as important. Nevertheless, I shall not press the amendment at this stage, although I am not happy about the trigger—the threshold—when one slips from one definition to another.

Amendment No. 114 was always intended to be a probing amendment. It was difficult to find a suitable opportunity to address the point, but I felt that it should be pressed, as we had not received any answers on Second Reading. I make no apology for pressing it, because there was no response to what I thought was an excellent speech on an issue of national significance that should be considered at all possible levels. There will be more and more trust situations—the responsibilities of the trustees of new trust schools may need to be clarified, for instance. So I concur with the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham that notes are required, and I look forward to receiving a copy of the Minister’s letter on the issues. With that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: No. 146, in clause 8, page 4, line 38, at end insert—

‘( ) A person does not commit an offence under subsection (1) or (2) if he has not attained the age of 16.’.—[Mr. Dhanda.]

Clause 8, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.