Clause 63

Policing and Crime Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:45 pm on 24th February 2009.

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Educational establishments: check on members of governing body

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of David Ruffley David Ruffley Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I am most grateful, Sir Nicholas, for your excellent guidance and forbearance. I am particularly pleased that you allowed me some latitude on clause 63. This important clause relates to checks on those who are or seek to be school governors, and it throws up a serious question. Subsection 13(3) of the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 ensures that an officer who runs those checks does not commit a criminal offence if they do not make a check on a governor who was appointed before section 13 became law. That is a clear exception. Subsection 13(4) of that Act allows the Secretary of State by order to set a date when that exception will come to an end—a sunset provision.

It is important to understand how the time scale will operate, for the simple reason that that time-limited exception allows for a check not to be run against a governor who happens to be a paedophile. How long does the Minister expect that exception under the sunset provision to exist? I do not for one second suggest that Ministers have not got their eye on that; it is clear from the explanatory notes that they take the matter seriously. I seek to make no party political or other point; this is an honest inquiry as to how long the phasing out of the exception will take. There is a difference between the exception existing for three months and it existing for a year. None of us on the Committee, and certainly not the Ministers and officials, would want to see an exception, which is there for understandable reasons, lingering on. The longer the exception is there, the less focusing there will be of the minds of appropriate officers, because the exception removes the criminal liability of those officers who fail recklessly or negligently to do the required checks of school governors.

We want to ensure that the exception for those individuals who were governors before the 2006 Act came into force does not continue for too long. We want the norm to be appropriate officers making checks on all school governors, whether they were governors before or after the passage of that Act. It is on that question of genuine, honest, non-partisan inquiry that I, and many families and schools, would like the Minister’s guidance.

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North

Further to that point, will my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary say whether a similar provision will apply to local authority members who visit schools? That issue arose some time ago in my constituency. As selected representatives we go in and out of all kinds of institutions without any checks. I have only once been asked for a police check to visit a children’s establishment, and that was when I was travelling abroad with a voluntary organisation. Elected representatives are not always immune from difficulties in this area either. Could my hon. Friend respond to that point?

Photo of Alan Campbell Alan Campbell Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Crime Reduction)

I am grateful to both the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds and my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North not simply for raising the issue, but for the way in which they did so. We have a shared concern. These are important questions. It is important to get the right system in place to identify and exclude people who are at risk. We also need to give confidence to people working in schools and parents that the system is robust. That also helps to keep this as a high priority.

The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of sunsetting. We have said that we will phase in the requirements to check over a period of time, but I can assure him that this will be done on a risk basis. So the person he identifies who has never been checked and yet could be a paedophile would be placed in a very early stage in that period. While in theory there may be a short period, I can assure him that it will be the shortest period possible.

My hon. Friend raised the issue of local authority members visiting schools. To some extent it rather depends on the visit whether the local authority member does any work for the school. If they do, they will be checked. Again, we will be phasing in over a period of time. I will certainly take away the points that she raises. There are a number of people in elected positions who will fairly regularly go into schools in their area. Indeed, it is important that we can give her and the Committee the reassurance that she seeks.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 63 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 64 to 72 ordered to stand part of the Bill.