Clause 42

Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:00 pm on 13th July 2006.

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Damages

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Shadow Minister (Education)

I beg to move amendment No. 4, in clause 42, page 26, line 19, at end insert—

‘(1A) Subsection (1) shall not apply if it can be proven that there is an error on the barred list.’.

This is a quick one, but it is important, and I look forward to the Minister’s response on it. The rules and regulations that we are discussing will have an impact on many thousands of people—I believe that the Government estimate that up to 9 million people will be covered by this monitoring, vetting and barring procedure—and, as the Minister acknowledged in Committee and on Second Reading, mistakes will be made. We highlighted the fact that the CRB has made 3,000 mistakes since it was set up. The Minister thought it appropriate to say that that was a small proportion of the total number of people who have been looked at, and that many thousands of people have been prevented from working with children and vulnerable adults as a result of the procedures put in place under the CRB.

Mistakes will undoubtedly be made; that has been acknowledged. I am sure that nobody in the  Committee or who looks at this Bill will be complacent about that. The objective behind the amendment is to ensure that adequate compensation is in place if mistakes are made. There is a provision in the Bill that states that people will be able to claim their rights under other legislation, but I am not sure whether that goes far enough. There must be some accountability to ensure that data held by the IBB about barring, and the decisions that it makes based on that information are correct. We are talking about people’s livelihoods and reputations, and the amendment would create an incentive for the IBB to get it right and ensure that people have a more apparent and readily accessible form of redress if things go wrong. I look forward to the Minister’s response on the matter, which will be of great interest to many people.

Photo of Parmjit Dhanda Parmjit Dhanda Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Children, Young People and Families), Department for Education and Skills 3:15 pm, 13th July 2006

I am in quite a helpful mood today, Mr. Martlew. It is extremely important that appropriate measures are in place to correct any mistakes that are made under the new scheme. If an individual is included in a barred list as a result of an error such as mistaken identity, the IBB will be able to remove them from the list, much as I described tothe hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole the other day. In cases in which the error is the responsibility of the CRB, it will, as now, consider providing ex gratia consolatory financial redress, based on the Treasury’s guidelines that the individual must be put back into the position in which they could reasonably have expected to be but for the error or maladministration.

With IBB decisions, a distinction must be made between the different types of cases that might arise. In cases in which the IBB’s decision to include the individual in a barred list is later overturned in an appeal, the appeal process will rectify the situation, and the case will be reconsidered as appropriate.

The IBB will also be able to initiate a review of its own accord—for example, where a conviction which led to a person’s inclusion on the barred list is quashed. Proceedings before the IBB are of a quasi-judicial nature, so it would be inappropriate to allow claims for damages. However, there may be cases in which individuals were included on the barred list as a result of maladministration by the IBB in which some form of compensatory payment might be warranted. Any new scheme of financial redress would need to comply with Government accounting requirements that underpin such arrangements under this and previous Administrations.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Shadow Minister (Education)

That is an interesting point. The Minister says that the IBB is a quasi-judicial body, but I was not aware that a non-departmental public body could be quasi-judicial. Either it has the role of a tribunal in a court situation, or it has not. If it has the role of a judicial body, then, obviously, damages are dealt with in a very different way, but if it is a non-departmental public body, it does not have quasi-judicial powers and should therefore be open to damages in the same way as any other body of a similar description. Will the Minister clarify that?

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

I am always happy to widen the hon. Lady’s knowledge of these matters. I think I did so the other day, too. She has spent a lot of time in rooms with lawyers—

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

So am I; it does not seem to help, does it?

I think that I have made it fairly clear—the IBB is quasi-judicial—in the same way that we clarified matters about the burden of proof on which the IBB is working. I do not see any issues or complexities with that, and I urge the hon. Lady to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Shadow Minister (Education)

I shall go away and consult our lawyer. It was entirely my impression that non-departmental public bodies do not have quasi-judicial powers. Perhaps the Minister can consult his lawyers and I can consult mine and we can come to a better conclusion.

On a serious note, the type of errors that we are discussing will be of exceptional importance to the people about whom they are made. We therefore need to ensure that there is an incentive for the IBB to ensure that such errors are kept to a minimum, and that those involved get the compensation that they should.

I thank the Minister for clarifying the situation with the CRB and ex gratia payments, but I would like to leave open the issue of the IBB and its role and status. Perhaps he will write to me about that; I certainly would like more clarification on that point, but I will withdraw the amendment at this stage. Perhaps we will revisit this matter when we have received more expert opinion. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 42 ordered to stand part of the Bill.