Clause 35

Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 13 July 2006.

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Registers: notice of barring and cessation of monitoring

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Shadow Minister (Education)

I beg to move amendment No. 194, in clause 35, page 23, line 35, leave out subsection (7) and insert—

‘(7) A person is subject to a relevant disqualification if—

(a) he is included in a list maintained under the law of Scotland, Northern Ireland, or any other country or territory which the Secretary of State specifies by order, approved by resolution of both Houses of Parliament, as corresponding to a barred list; or

(b) he has been charged or convicted of a criminal offence in a country other than the United Kingdom which, if committed in the United Kingdom, would have led to him being barred or considered for barring.’.

Photo of Eric Martlew Eric Martlew Labour, Carlisle

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 195, in clause 35, page 23, line 37, at end insert—

‘(7A) A person is subject to a relevant disqualification if he is included in a list maintained under the law of a country or territory outside the United Kingdom which the Secretary of State specifies by order, approved by a resolution of both Houses of Parliament, as corresponding to a barred list.’.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Shadow Minister (Education)

The two amendments deal with the same problem. I suppose that we are trying to give ourselves an option, with two different ways to solve it. It is not only we who have identified the problem; those who debated the issue in the other place and a great many of those involved in the Government’s extensive consultations have highlighted their concerns about overseas workers. Again, it is somewhat disappointing that, despite all the consultation, nothing in the Bill helps employers further.

The amendments are probing. They address the problem of overseas workers. It was identified as important not only in the post-Bichard consultation but by a great many other groups that were consulted by the Government. I said in February, on Second Reading, that my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) had written to the then Secretary of State for Education and Skills asking for assurances in respect of overseas workers in schools. The Minister said on Second Reading that he would follow the matter up, because we had not received a reply to that letter. Unfortunately, we still await a reply. Perhaps the Minister is still undecided. If so, I hope that he accepts the amendments as constructive solutions to a problem that has yet to be resolved. I shall therefore consider them in more detail.

I remind the Minister of the statistics. There is a growing number of overseas workers in all the sectors under the Bill that deal with vulnerable adults and children. Almost one in five nurses and one in three medical practitioners come from overseas. About18 per cent. of social workers and 15 per cent. of carer assistants come from overseas. They work with some of the most vulnerable people in quasi-domestic settings.

As we all know, overseas workers make a vital contribution in schools, hospitals, care homes and many of the other settings covered by the Bill. It is important that we find a way to deal with them as a set  of workers within our communities. The Bill must offer a robust system to ensure that those workers who come from overseas can, whenever possible, enjoy the same affirmation for their role in the workplace as those from the UK. We need to work a little harder on that problem.

I have read the many notes that Lord Adonis sent with the Bill to clarify those areas that are a little opaque. One note contained details of the Government’s work in setting up agreements with certain countries. It is interesting to note that the countries that the Government are making a priority are Australia and Canada. We welcome that important move, but I am concerned that it does not adequately address the problem. The official statistics show that the majority of overseas workers who deal with children and vulnerable adults come from Africa, Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Perhaps the Minister will take the opportunity afforded by this debate to outline what the Government are doing in relation to those other parts of the world, which cover the majority of people from overseas working here.

Amendments Nos. 194 and 195 would broaden the scope of clause 35(7). Instead of allowing the Secretary of State merely to draw up regulations on arrangements with Northern Ireland and Scotland, he would be able to draw up regulations that included all countries and territories, which would obviously cover all overseas workers.

Amendment No. 194 would have the added advantage of allowing us, should the country in question not maintain a relevant list in the way in which we do, to look at the relevant criminal charge or conviction and assess whether it would lead to barring in this country. We could then take appropriate action.

I have outlined the statistics. This is not a peripheral matter that can be put to one side. It has been suggested that we could deal with this group of people as though they had never put themselves forward for monitoring before and were fresh on our database. The number of overseas workers in this country is growing. They are important, and we need to ensure that the Bill shows them the level of respect that they deserve regarding their roles within our community. The amendments give the Minister the opportunity to respond to several questions on the issue.

This is not a unique problem. In many other areas, individuals from overseas are dealt with adequately. In the realms of the legal profession, there are recognised ways of acknowledging overseas lawyers. Perhaps, in reaching his decision the Minister could consider such examples outside of our proceedings. I hope that we can find a better way of dealing with this important group of people.

Photo of Parmjit Dhanda Parmjit Dhanda Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Children, Young People and Families), Department for Education and Skills 3:00, 13 July 2006

I agree entirely that overseas workers are important, not least when their children become MPs and Ministers.

The amendments relate to foreign barred lists, foreign offences, and the duty on the Secretary of State to notify the keepers of certain registers—registersof medical practitioners and social workers, for example—such as the General Medical Council, when  a person is subject to certain disqualifications. Amendment No. 194, which is a probing amendment, would require the Secretary of State to notify the keepers of such registers when he becomes aware that an individual has been charged or convicted in another country of a criminal offence that would have led to consideration about whether that person should be barred if it had been committed in the UK.

Both amendments would ensure that the keepers of such registers were notified if the Secretary of State became aware that an individual was included on any foreign barred list specified by the Secretary of State. That sounds reasonable, in essence, but this Bill is not the appropriate vehicle by which to introduce new measures about the treatment of foreign offences. The Government have already introduced a number of measures to tackle the issue of foreign offences. They include notification orders, which ensure that people who are convicted of sex offences overseas are made to sign the sex offenders register in the UK, and sexual offences prevention orders, which can also applyto offenders who are convicted of sexual or violent offences overseas.

I take on board the hon. Lady’s point about not wanting to start from scratch and to consider just offences in the UK. That is exactly what we are doing. However, there is a way in which the Bill allows us to take account of overseas offences. Paragraph 20 of schedule 2 allows the Secretary of State to specify that, in addition to UK convictions and cautions, the following criteria qualify a person for automatic barring: orders such as sexual offences prevention orders and notification orders, which I just mentioned; inclusion in a foreign barred list equivalent to the children and vulnerable adults barred list; and overseas orders or directions. The regulations prescribing those criteria are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. In addition, under the discretionary route, the IBB will, of course, be able to take account of any information regarding offences or behaviour abroad when it receives that information. The Bill therefore ensures that the barring scheme can take account of offences committed abroad.

The Secretary of State already has a duty under the Bill to notify the keepers of relevant registers when an individual is barred, and that will achieve the intended effect of the amendment, without the need for a separate set of information to flow to the keepers of registers about foreign offences and lists, with which they are not necessarily familiar and to which they may not know how to respond. I hope that with that on the record, the hon. Lady will not press her probing amendments.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Shadow Minister (Education)

I am grateful to the Minister for taking the time to outline what is already in the Bill, but I remain a little confused as to why so much emphasis and effort have been put into negotiating agreements with Canada and Australia, but not other countries from which we receive many overseas workers. He said that the amendments sound reasonable, but that the relevant issues are already dealt with in the Bill. Surely, if he agrees that the amendments are reasonable, and given that they merely clarify what is already in the Bill,  would not it be entirely sensible to make it clearer to the employers who will have to try to interpret this legislation that specific actions need to be taken with regard to overseas employees?

I expected the Minister to say something slightly different—that, as we are talking about employment practices, the Bill might not be the right place in which to articulate the need for more vigilance with employment, given that the criminal records of individuals might not be fully available to us. I would have been open to an argument that we need to consider other ways in which to communicate that to employers—perhaps through codes of practice. The Minister’s intention might be to cover overseas employees, but I am concerned that the Bill is a little hazy on that.

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

When I said what I said about the amendments being reasonable, I was not in any way accepting that they would be reasonable amendments to the Bill. It is fair to say that more work needs to be done on the matter, and the Government are committed to doing that. It is also worth considering that there is an issue about the reliability of criminal records in areas such as Africa and Asia. With the European Community initiative, we are doing a great deal to share information across national boundaries. We will continue to do that work and build on it through regulations made under the Bill.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Shadow Minister (Education)

I thank the Minister for that intervention. I am glad to hear him say that more work needs to be done on that, and that he acknowledges that further debate is important. As he agrees that that area has not been resolved, I look forward to the Government introducing further amendments on the issue on Report.

The Minister talked about the reliability of criminal records in other countries. I did not go into that issue only because I do not have any concrete evidence on it to hand. If, as he asserted, there is an issue with reliability, I invite him to explain what support and help the Government will give to employers to ensure that they are aware, when they employ people from overseas, that there might be a slight hole in the information that is available about the previous employment and behaviour of those employees. Perhaps he would care to consider that further on Report. Given that we have had a good discussion on the issue, I am happy to withdraw my amendment, and hope that the Government will revisit the issue at a later stage. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 35 ordered to stand part of the Bill.