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 Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party 9:16 am, 8th March 2007

Amendment 1 is a key amendment in today's stage 3 proceedings as it cuts to the heart of the concerns that have been raised about the bill from the start. The bulk of those who work with children are already in post, but many of the provisions in the bill will affect only those who enter new positions.

Clearly, the issue of retrospective checking has been key to everybody who has been involved with the bill. In particular, the voluntary sector had severe concerns that the retrospection burden could be counterproductive to the needs of child protection and children's services, which are much needed throughout the country. I welcome the fact that the minister has responded to the committee's concerns about the issue.

The Scottish National Party's view was that the bill should have been kept back until the consultation on retrospection had been completed, so that we could see the matter in the round and would know exactly what we were legislating for. However, given that we are at the tail-end of the parliamentary session, we recognise that some of the provisions in the bill as it stands should be introduced.

A key issue regarding amendment 1 is that we expect the consultation to clarify what the costs will be on voluntary sector capacity. It is clear from the evidence that we received that the statutory sector is geared up and ready to implement retrospection, so I suspect that the regulations should allow the statutory sector to move forward on retrospection more quickly than the voluntary sector.

That cuts to the heart of the issue about what constitutes a proportionate response. The issue is how we ensure that we do not allow loopholes for people who are already in post while ensuring that we have a manageable child protection system. I reiterate that the establishment of a central barring unit for disclosure checks will not, of itself, stop people harming children, but it will prevent those who seek to do so from trying to exploit children in their workplace.

It is important, however, that we recognise the concerns about retrospective checking that were expressed by voluntary sector organisations such as the WRVS. I look forward to a very robust consultation process. The use of the affirmative resolution procedure will place a burden and responsibility on future committees, which will need to deal with the secondary legislation on retrospection as seriously as they deal with primary legislation.

I welcome the minister's response to the committee's concerns on the issue, but it is regrettable that we are in this situation. We know from the implementation of the Protection of Children (Scotland) Act 2003—which was passed at the tail-end of the previous parliamentary session—that retrospection is a problematic issue that needs to be resolved. However, we need to resolve it on an informed basis. The committee asked the minister not to proceed to stage 2 until information on regulations and a further consultation had been provided. Although that was not possible, I believe that any future consultation should be informed by the experience of those organisations, such as Fife Council, that have embarked on retrospection. We should look at the statistics on how many people such organisations have found, as a result of retrospection, who should have been prevented from working with children. We need to consider such issues if we are to come up with a proportionate response.

In that spirit, the SNP will support amendment 1. The amendment provides a positive way forward by ensuring that the Parliament is allowed to conduct proper scrutiny of retrospection when the regulations are laid before the Parliament.