Section 34 — Organisations not to use barred individuals for regulated work

Part of Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 9:16 am on 8th March 2007.

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Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat 9:16 am, 8th March 2007

Amendment 1 is a more substantive amendment, which relates to one of the key concerns and issues for debate during the bill's passage. Retrospective checking has been hotly debated and the subject of media dispute since the bill was introduced in September. I will therefore highlight what retrospective checking is and why it is such an important issue.

Essentially, under any scheme, such as the existing Protection of Children (Scotland) Act 2003 arrangements, people who come into the workforce are checked when they do so. Obviously, an increasing number of people will therefore be checked, but that still leaves a number of people who are already in the workforce and have not been the subject of checks. Some of those people may have been in the workforce for many years. Clearly, there will be an element of risk if they are not brought into the system, and the extent of that risk and how we should deal with the matter proportionately must be considered. It is reasonably clear that if we introduced retrospective checking within six months or a year of passing the bill, a bulge of people would be added to the system, which could cause a breakdown of arrangements for those at the Government end and for organisations and voluntary groups that must deal with the legislation. By the same token, if it took 20 years to introduce retrospective checking, the issue would be almost incidental.

The technical effect of the amendments will be to move the provisions on retrospection from being commenced by commencement order, in which parliamentary involvement would be very limited, to being commenced by regulations. That will allow us to deal with the issues that have been raised about logistics, administration and cost to organisations and the Executive of including existing employees within the scheme. The amendments follow up the commitment that I made to the Education Committee at stage 2. We have no interest in implementing the scheme in a way that damages voluntary organisations or other organisations.

I recognise that the phased introduction of including the existing workforce within the scheme will be an absolutely critical factor in the successful implementation of the bill. We have always been clear that all aspects of implementation of the bill will be carefully considered and consulted on. During the debates on retrospection at stage 2 and stage 1, we said expressly that whether and how to proceed, and at what rate and in what order, would be the subject of careful consideration and consultation. I hope that that assurance has been put clearly on record and in my correspondence with the Education Committee.

The amendments will mean that retrospective checking cannot begin until ministers have made regulations that have been approved by Parliament through the affirmative resolution procedure. That allows the maximum possible level of parliamentary scrutiny for what is undoubtedly the most significant issue of controversy in the bill for individuals and organisations across the country.

I am happy to move the amendments because it is in everyone's interest that retrospective checking is commenced in a way that commands widespread support and confidence. The fact that Parliament will be involved through the affirmative resolution procedure will, on top of the statements that I have already made, send a strong signal to whoever may be the minister in a future Administration that the matter can be sorted out only by going through a procedure that involves the parliamentary process and the Parliament's committees in a way that allows maximum scrutiny.

Against that background, I move amendment 1.