Clause 35

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

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Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Shadow Minister (Education) 2:45, 13 July 2006

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.