Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Bill

– in the Scottish Parliament at 2:56 pm on 8th March 2007.

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Photo of George Reid George Reid None 2:56 pm, 8th March 2007

The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-5631, in the name of Hugh Henry, that the Parliament agrees that the Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Bill be passed.

Photo of Hugh Henry Hugh Henry Labour

I thank my parliamentary colleagues, particularly members of the Education Committee, for their constructive and valuable input during the passage of the bill. I also thank the many individuals and organisations who provided the Education Committee and the Finance Committee with evidence and those who engaged constructively and positively with the Executive throughout the bill's journey. A huge amount of work has been put into the bill. I pay tribute to the Executive bill team, who have worked assiduously in responding to many questions and comments and in supporting Robert Brown and me.

As I came relatively late to the development process of the bill, I acknowledge Peter Peacock's contribution to constructing and formulating the detail of the bill. I pay particular tribute to Robert Brown, my deputy, for the way in which he engaged with the Education Committee and with voluntary organisations throughout Scotland. He listened to them and worked extremely hard on some of the amendments that we discussed this morning. Robert is due a vote of thanks from all of us for helping to get the bill into its final shape. There is no doubt that that commitment and sharing of knowledge has led to a refined and improved bill, which will deliver a robust and efficient vetting and barring scheme for Scotland.

The scheme will ensure that those who are proven to be unsuitable do not get access to children. Significantly, and for the first time, those people will also not get access to protected adults through work or volunteering. We all owe it to vulnerable members of our society to do what we can to protect them from those who would seek to inflict harm or danger on them.

The scheme greatly reduces the bureaucratic burden of multiple disclosure checks and allows information to be continuously updated. It also dovetails with measures south of the border, thus ensuring that Scotland does not become a safe haven for those who would abuse vulnerable people.

It is right to put on record the fact that the vast majority of people who work with children and protected adults are committed and caring. They do a fantastic job. In many circumstances, they do work that is above and beyond the call of duty. They enhance greatly the quality of life of those with whom they work. However, regrettably and tragically, there is a minority of people who would do harm to those who are most in need of our protection and, often, those people try to use a job or a volunteering position as a means of gaining access to those vulnerable individuals.

The bill's purpose is to stop those people. It provides employers with an additional tool that, used in tandem with other safer recruitment measures, will begin to make a difference. That will help to ensure that they—and the rest of us—can be confident that reasonable steps have been taken to keep unsuitable people out of the workplace.

Since the stage 1 debate in January, more than 300 amendments have been lodged that have led to a number of substantial improvements to the bill, including altering the definition of "protected adult" to ensure that it is based on prescribed health and welfare services; giving further assurances and reassurances in relation to fees, which we discussed this morning; and introducing retrospective checking by regulation, using the affirmative procedure.

With regard to the sharing of child protection information, the Scottish ministers agreed—with considerable reluctance—to support the amendment to withdraw part 3, but we remain convinced that the provisions in that part of the bill are vital to address information sharing. I hope that the Parliament will return to that issue at the earliest opportunity.

We intend to publish a draft code of practice at the earliest opportunity. Although it will be a non-statutory code, it does not preclude information sharing being underpinned by legal duties at a future point. However, the passing of the bill is only one step towards having a modern, streamlined vetting and barring system. The next stages are vital and I want to reaffirm the Executive's commitment to undertake full and detailed consultation on all aspects of implementation and significant secondary legislation. We will do that through a range of forums and groups and through consultation papers and events involving those who have an interest. In addition, we have made a commitment to lay before Parliament an annual report on the performance of the vetting and barring functions.

We have no interest in implementing the bill in a way that denies the benefits that should flow from the new scheme. We have no desire to undo all the good work that has been done to promote and encourage volunteering in Scotland. We remain supportive of the sector in policy and financial terms. We believe that voluntary organisations deserve to have the same confidence in their staff as statutory and private organisations have in their staff and volunteers.

The bill will not restrict the number of people who can work or volunteer in the vulnerable groups workforce. It does not require parents who are helping teachers out at a school event to be checked, nor is it intended to curb children's normal, everyday physical and intellectual activities. The focus of the bill is on ensuring that unsuitable people do not come into contact with those who need protection. I think that the bill delivers a robust and effective scheme that is proportionate and sensible and is linked to recruitment processes and local risk assessment. I commend it to the chamber.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that the Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Bill be passed.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Scottish National Party 3:03 pm, 8th March 2007

I pay tribute to the work of the Education Committee's members and clerks and acknowledge Robert Brown's willingness to respond positively to the committee's concerns about this technically complex bill.

As a result of the dropping of part 3, on information sharing, and the amendments that were made at stages 2 and 3, the bill has been significantly streamlined. Indeed, some might say that it now appears to be something akin to a vehicle for subordinate legislation. There are, of course, inherent dangers in that. The devil is in the detail, and the Executive was unable to fulfil its undertaking to provide drafts of its subordinate legislation proposals prior to stage 2. Will future secondary legislation receive the level of scrutiny that the bill received?

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

I think that I am right in saying that the Executive did not undertake to provide drafts of the subordinate legislation in response to the committee's demands. We said that we would come up with the policy arrangements that underlie the bill, which we delivered to the committee.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Scottish National Party

That is not quite my recollection, but the point I went on to make was whether future secondary legislation will receive the same level of scrutiny as the bill received. Let us hope that it will.

Although we have been sceptical about the benefits of pushing ahead with the bill at this stage in the session—remember that a great deal of consultation has still to be conducted and the act will not be commenced until 2009; I stand to be corrected on that—we do not take issue with the broad thrust of it, which is to provide children and vulnerable adults with better protection from abuse by people who work with them. Nor is there any significant opposition to the notion that a registration scheme of the type recommended by the Bichard report should be established.

We should all be sceptical about the capacity of bureaucratic processes and procedures to provide watertight protection of children and vulnerable adults—they will not do so—but at least they provide a logical first line of defence, which I hope will ensure that anyone who has a record of harming children or vulnerable adults will not be hired to work with them.

The bill is an improvement on the regime under the Protection of Children (Scotland) Act 2003, owing to the introduction of continuous updating of disclosure checks and an end to multiple applications. However, it is important to recognise its limitations. We cannot afford to be lulled into a false sense of security by a tightening of the law. There are people who do not have a recorded history of harming vulnerable people but who are potential offenders and must be detected and prevented from causing harm. That is why we need to extend the debate about the protection of vulnerable groups beyond legislation and into policy and practice.

We must recognise that the risk of harm cannot be eliminated, but the risks should be minimised and dealt with proportionately. I do not think that that is what is happening, and that the result is a distortion of the relationship between adults—particularly men—and children. We have almost reached the stage at which the motivation of any man who wishes to work with children is automatically questioned. It is little wonder that many men now choose not to put themselves in such a position.

I accept that the minister has made significant concessions that should help to reassure the voluntary sector that it will not be unduly burdened by matters such as retrospective checking and fees for disclosure checks. However, as he said, that has been the easy part of the legislative process. The hard part—implementing the act—is still to come.

In the years to come, the act will need to be closely monitored. It is surely a prime candidate for post-legislative scrutiny in the next session. We must guard against unintended consequences. The biggest potential downside to the bill is that it might reduce the voluntary sector's capacity to deliver services to children and vulnerable adults by diverting resources to administering the protection system or by deterring volunteers. That is another reason to remain vigilant in considering the framework of protection for vulnerable groups. On that basis, we will support the bill.

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative 3:08 pm, 8th March 2007

I welcome everything Adam Ingram said and I thank both ministers for their sensitive handling of what has been, if I may say so, a difficult bill. I also thank the clerks and the members of the Education Committee.

It is the inescapable duty of us all to go that extra mile to protect children and the more vulnerable adults from harm. Since the bill improves upon the existing framework for doing that, we will certainly support it.

The continuous updating of vetting records and the innovation of short scheme checks address two of the major flaws of the current disclosure system. There is now much less likelihood of no action being taken when new information is uncovered that could give rise to concern about a regulated employee. Furthermore, there will be less duplication as the need to check an employee from scratch each time he moves employer will be eliminated.

I hope that a consensus exists that proper consultation with all relevant and legitimate interests ought to be a prerequisite for all proposed legislation that the Parliament considers. That is important to ensure that legislation is well drafted and workable and to maintain good will with people who will be affected directly. If that does not happen, we will have to revisit the legislation after a few years, to amend it.

The removal of what was part 3 is to be welcomed. Nonetheless, as Hugh Henry said, it is important to deal speedily with information sharing in future legislation. That will benefit greatly from the proper consultation that postponement until after the official deadline of the election makes possible.

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations thinks that the new scheme will force 850,000 people to be background checked in the phasing-in period. I accept that the new vetting and barring scheme will offer far more protection than the outgoing scheme, but the Executive should introduce retrospective checking sensitively with full regard to the consequences for voluntary organisations and charities.

Fees will hit the voluntary sector hardest. I hope that heed will be paid to the consultation responses. The burden will be heaviest in the phasing-in period. I argued earlier today for the voluntary sector to be exempt. I did not put that proposition to the vote, but the Executive disregards that issue and the voluntary sector's plight at its peril.

The Parliament and the Education Committee have invested much time in scrutinising several measures that are aimed at improving child protection in the widest sense. In the light of the Soham tragedy and the Bichard inquiry, we have had to rethink all our arrangements. The bill undoubtedly serves an important need.

The many details that are not specified in the bill should be resolved after careful consultation with the people who are most directly involved. The bill should then be implemented in a measured fashion. It might fall short of perfection because of the speed with which it was thrust through Parliament, but we are right to support it. It will represent a significant advancement for the protection of children and vulnerable adults.

Yesterday and today, an exhibition has been held in the Parliament called "Grandparents Speak Out for Vulnerable Children". At the stall, a book was issued that told of grandparents' journey from devastation to the Scottish Parliament. It is our responsibility to ensure that their words echo down the corridors of power to ministers' offices and ultimately to the desks of Mr Hugh Henry and Mr Robert Brown. If I may, I will, at the end of the debate, present to them their own copies of that book. It is essential that ministers and MSPs give vulnerable groups the protection, support and hope that they deserve.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat 3:13 pm, 8th March 2007

The bill that we are considering now is very different from and considerably better than the bill that was introduced on 25 September last year. Broad support was given to the policy intent of the bill as introduced, which was to introduce a streamlined vetting and barring scheme to prevent people who are unsuitable to work with children from working with them and to extend that protection to vulnerable adults.

We must not forget that 85 per cent of children who are abused are not abused by people who are at work or in voluntary organisations; they are abused in their homes by people they know—family, friends or relatives. We must bear that important point in mind while we consider the bill. It will not protect all children, but it will reduce the risk for children while they are at school, in playgroups or in contact with voluntary organisations.

We should not forget that significant concerns have been expressed about how the bill will operate in practice, particularly its implications for volunteering and the voluntary sector. One concern is that the bill leaves too many questions unanswered and that too much detail is being left to secondary legislation and guidance that will not be available until after the bill has been passed. We touched on some of those issues this morning—they include retrospective checks, fee levels, the definition of regulated work, the applicant's rights and the sharing of child protection information.

Underlying those concerns is the fundamental question whether the bill amounts to a proportionate response to the issues that arose in, for example, the Soham case and the Bichard inquiry. There is also uncertainty about whether it provides the right level of protection to allow children to take full advantage of educational and recreational opportunities, or whether it will fuel the climate of risk aversion that restricts such opportunities.

Although the amended bill leaves much of the detail to regulation and guidance, I am confident that it can provide reassurance in the key areas that I have mentioned. That is in no small measure thanks to the work of the Education Committee. As convener of that committee, I put on record my appreciation for the diligent and responsible way in which my colleagues on the committee handled this delicate issue. I also thank the committee clerks for their excellent work in supporting the committee, and the many witnesses who gave oral and written evidence at stage 1 and prior to the commencement of stage 2.

Throughout our consideration of the bill, the welfare and best interests of children and vulnerable adults have been our paramount concern. Members will recall that, in our stage 1 report, the committee recommended that part 3, on the sharing of child protection information, should be deleted. I state once again—as I did when I moved the amendments to remove part 3 at stage 2—that the removal of part 3 should not be taken to imply that the Parliament does not believe that appropriate child protection information should not be shared when that is necessary to ensure the protection of children, but we must also ensure that the right of children to confidentiality in accessing services is protected, so that we do not inadvertently put children at risk by deterring them from accessing the services they need.

The committee was strongly of the view that stage 2 should not commence before the relevant draft regulations and guidance had been published and consulted on. In the event, the Executive was able to publish only the policy options that would be consulted on, but that enabled the committee to take the unusual step of taking further oral evidence prior to stage 2, which helped to inform the process during stage 2.

I am grateful for the co-operation the committee received from the minister, Robert Brown, and the bill team. I thank them for the positive way in which they responded to the committee's requests for additional information and advice on the bill and the way in which they responded to the committee's concerns by lodging appropriate amendments at stages 2 and 3. Working together, the committee and the Executive have produced a bill that is now fit for purpose. There will, however, be a need for diligence by our successor committee in the next session, to ensure that the commitments the Executive has given are translated into the regulations and guidance that will flesh out the bones of the scheme.

A few weeks ago, I did not think that I would be able to stand here today and say that I commend the bill to the chamber.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour 3:17 pm, 8th March 2007

Like many others, including members of the Finance Committee and the Education Committee, I came to stage 1 of the bill with significant concerns because of the issues that had been raised, especially by the voluntary sector, and most of all by groups representing the interests of children, such as Children 1 st and Children in Scotland. There was no perceived problem in supporting the bill's improvements on the Protection of Children (Scotland) Act 2003, such as streamlining the vetting and barring system and ensuring its coherence with the legislation that was passed in England and Wales, but there were concerns—as we heard earlier today—about the scope of the bill and the fact that it included statutory duties to share information, which had not been subject to the same degree of consultation as the rest of the bill.

There were also concerns about how retrospection would work. Those concerns were not new to the Education Committee, as they had been raised with us in the context of POCSA—as the deputy minister knows from his previous role as convener of the Education Committee. We were aware that it was a difficult issue. The financial memorandum to the bill also suggested that around 20 per cent of the Scottish population might eventually be drawn into the scope of the bill, and there were worries about how small voluntary sector organisations would cope and whether scheme membership would deter people from volunteering.

We have found ways of dealing with that. Retrospection will be dealt with in secondary legislation that is subject to the affirmative procedure, which will enable Parliament to judge whether it is appropriate. Provisions on the issuing of ministerial guidance have been included in the bill, which is crucial in ensuring that all organisations do not become so risk averse and concerned about litigation that they insist on the highest possible level of disclosure for even the most minor interactions with children.

The fact that there were only five non-Executive amendments at stage 3 bears testament to ministers' consideration of the issues that were raised by witnesses and the amendments that were lodged by committee members at stage 2. The bill team and the committee should be commended for being able to work well together. That contrasts with what happened in England and Wales, where the legislation was passed without any questions being asked and it was only afterwards that people began to think, "Oh dear, there may be problems with this." On the removal of part 3 of the bill, there is no suggestion that the sharing of information is not crucial. Speaking as someone who represents the constituency in which young Kennedy McFarlane was killed by her mother's partner, which happened because agencies did not share information, I of all people am not going to argue that information sharing is not important. The committee's only real concern was about how the statutory duty would affect groups that offer counselling to survivors of abuse or to children who have been abused. That was one of the main concerns that were brought to us, and it was why we felt that further consultation was necessary. However, the situation ought to be addressed in the next appropriate piece of legislation in the next parliamentary session.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour 3:20 pm, 8th March 2007

Much as I welcome the bill, I am saddened by the circumstances that gave rise to it. The Soham murders and other horrific child abuse cases have grabbed our consciousness in the past few years and not only brought misery to those who were directly affected but scarred us as a country. However, as the minister, members of the committee and others have commented, the biggest child abuse problem is caused by parents and other carers neglecting those who are entrusted to their care. I am therefore pleased that the Executive is taking steps to address that through a range of measures, including the "Hidden Harm" agenda.

Nevertheless, as a country and a society, we seem to have developed an incredible anxiety about strangers. We are less trusting of others and we have grown more fearful. We can point to many factors that might have led to that anxiety: we are a more mobile society, the family unit has seen a breakdown, there is less communal living and we do not know our neighbours. When I was younger, people knew who they lived alongside to a far greater extent than we do now. Of course, that was not always healthy because, although people always knew each other, someone who got above themselves would be reminded by others that they kent their faither, too.

Whatever the reasons for the breakdown of trust in our society, it has left us looking elsewhere for security, hence the need for laws such as the Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Bill. Although we might need occasionally to remind ourselves of this, the vast majority of those whom we live alongside—the people we do not know as well as those we do—are trustworthy. The bill and the disclosure system are based on the premise that, on or off the record, officially or unofficially, there is nothing about most people that should make us question their suitability to care for a vulnerable adult or that should create anxiety in a parent.

Some of our early discussions on the bill focused on the concern that we might aggravate a climate of mistrust in our society, or that we might be pandering to the risk-averse culture in which we find ourselves. If that were the case, I would worry. However, the bill is about reassuring people and ensuring that we, as parents, can have confidence that our children are safe in the hands of the adults to whom we entrust them, and that the very small number of dangerous or depraved individuals who might be at large are not allowed to exercise, and so potentially abuse, positions of responsibility.

The bill extends to vulnerable adults the protections that were previously available to young people. It is also a major step forward for the portability of the disclosure system. When the original disclosure legislation was passed, one of its biggest bugbears was that a new disclosure was required for every activity involving helping or supervising young people that an adult engaged in. The new system will allow an individual to apply for one positive vetting statement and for regular updates to be given to employers if they are required.

As we look forward to the implementation of the legislation and of other child protection measures that are due to come into effect, I wonder if this is not the time to address our concerns about the risk-averse, overly cynical and suspicious culture that we find ourselves developing. Of course, that is not just about child protection legislation; it is about our propensity to sue or to litigate every time anything goes wrong. It is about the blame culture and the criminalisation of health and safety matters. Those who are in positions of responsibility and power therefore do not know where their responsibility ends and our liability as individual adults to make informed choices begins.

I, for one, do not wish to live in a fearful and suspicious culture. I do not like it that teachers or the janitor, for example, cannot give a reassuring cuddle to a child who has been hurt in the playground. If a man volunteers to work with vulnerable adults or young people, we should be grateful, not suspicious. When a parent agrees to help out to ensure that a school trip or show goes ahead as planned, we need to rely on our judgment first in accepting their help.

The disclosure system and the vetting and barring information to which we now have access is just corroborative evidence to support our judgment about an individual's trustworthiness. It is there to provide further reassurance of an individual's suitability for a post. It cannot replace our responsibility to assess someone's suitability. The bill provides parents and others with reassurance, but it does not replace good judgment. I commend the bill to Parliament.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative 3:25 pm, 8th March 2007

As Kenneth Macintosh has just reminded us, the bill has its genesis in the recommendations of Sir Michael Bichard's report on the murder of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman by their school caretaker, Ian Huntly. The photograph of Holly and Jessica, smiling into the camera and wearing their Manchester United football tops, is an enduring image that should haunt us all. In a sense, their smiles are a reproach to us, because the system failed to protect them.

Nearer to home, we can reflect on the murder 11 years ago of 15 little children and their teacher, Mrs Mayor, at Dunblane primary school. The anniversary of that event falls next week. We recall not only that their murderer, Thomas Hamilton, was possessed of an array of legally held weapons, but that he was a man who worked with children and young people in a voluntary capacity over a long period. His conduct in that capacity had been a concern to a number of parents and others who came into contact with him, although no one could have predicted the murderous outcome.

As a result of such tragic events, we commission inquiries that produce recommendations and we enact laws, because we feel our failures acutely. We want to protect our children and other vulnerable people and, because we cannot legislate evil in our society out of existence, we have recourse to laws, regulations and government agencies to try to achieve that objective. For that reason, we pass laws on gun control, security in schools and, today, disclosure and vetting procedures for those who work with children and other vulnerable people.

Although we are driven by a determination to try to make amends and to close perceived gaps in our laws, a strong and welcome sense of realism has run through consideration of the bill. There is recognition that we cannot protect our children from all the evils and risks in this world, and that they cannot be wrapped in cotton wool if they are to grow into independent, mature adults who are capable of making sound judgments for themselves.

I support the bill but, like many other members, I do so with a concern for the proportionality of our response and its implications for civil liberties and with a desire that the hundreds of thousands of dedicated, committed people in Scotland who work with children and vulnerable adults in a professional or voluntary capacity be judged fairly and not damned by false accusation or malicious innuendo.

At the end of the day, we have no option but to pass the bill, but we should do so with heavy hearts, reflecting on the need for such a measure and what our society has come to. As I said in the stage 1 debate, Parliament and the Executive should keep the operation of the new legislation under close scrutiny, to determine whether we have got the balance right after all.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party 3:28 pm, 8th March 2007

I commend David McLetchie for a thoughtful speech. The Scottish National Party supports many of his comments and shares many of his views, especially with regard to Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, Dunblane and—in my case—Miss X in the Borders. We support what David McLetchie said about the difficulty of ensuring that protection is proportionate and his comments on society generally.

On a lighter note, I tender to the chamber the apologies of Fiona Hyslop, who has been detained. That is the reason why I am here, with my parachute lying outside.

I have found the debate very interesting. Pupils from Earlston high school were here today, and during their visit I found myself strenuously defending the Parliament. We are growing up, and this is a difficult bill on difficult issues. I, too, praise Robert Brown, despite the fact that he is a Liberal Democrat, because he is sincere and a good egg generally. His career is now completely blighted—votes are melting away.

I turn to the issue of those who work with children. I have two sisters who are primary teachers. Ken Macintosh described how the fear that some kind of allegation will be made against them if they even touch or help a child permeates teachers. They cannot even help a child to tie their shoelaces in case something is read into that. Those in the voluntary sector are even worse off—they have to keep looking over their shoulders. Again, it is a matter of balance.

I have only just found out that 300 amendments were lodged to the bill, so, again, I must praise the Education Committee for its work. The committee seems so consensual and committee members so nice to each other that I think that I belong there. The committee managed to get part 3 deleted, although I should once again commend Robert Brown for listening. As I understand it, it was a victim of the bogeyman of legislation—the law of unintended consequences—so its deletion was no bad thing. That shows the importance of committee scrutiny, but I will come to the issue of post-legislative scrutiny in a moment.

As far as the voluntary sector is concerned, the jury is definitely out, particularly with regard to funding. We all know from our case load that the sector is already in financial difficulty; indeed, I could trot out the usual mantra about its funding not being secured for three years. Donald Gorrie, who is in the chamber, knows perfectly well the background to all this. Those concerns will grow when money starts to be siphoned off to fund the Olympics. The fact is that the smaller voluntary organisations will suffer. After all, the big boys and girls in the sector can generally take care of themselves.

Concerns have also been expressed about the commencement date of 2009. As I understand it, that is because of the additional work that will be needed for the subordinate legislation, regulations and all that stuff. We are eight years on in this Parliament, so we should all realise that subordinate legislation is the meat and gravy of the matter. It is certainly a huge issue, because we must be able to examine the actual gubbins, as it were, of the legislation.

We must always look at legislation as a helpful tool. However, as David McLetchie and others have pointed out, no legislation can guarantee 100 per cent that all volunteers and teachers will do right and that nothing bad will happen to a child or vulnerable adult. It is important to make it clear that, regrettably, some dark and evil people will always find a way of circumventing legislation. As a result, all of us in this chamber should put down a marker for the next Parliament, whichever party is in power. As Lord James Douglas-Hamilton said with his usual charm, which we will all miss, we must return to and examine carefully the operation of this legislation.

I finish with my mantra: if we legislate in haste, we will be sued at leisure.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat 3:32 pm, 8th March 2007

This could have been nothing more than a tail-end debate. However, some of the speeches this afternoon, particularly those made by Ken Macintosh, David McLetchie and Iain Smith, have been among the best that I have heard in this Parliament.

We must keep in front of us Iain Smith's central point: the Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Bill is about the welfare and best interests of children. It is complex and challenging legislation, and it is a tribute to the quality of Executive officials and the strength and vitality of the Scottish Parliament's committee system that the bill has come through its passage reflecting—and strengthened by—their input and by the input of interests in wider society.

Systems are one thing, but they are given life and dynamism by people. In that respect, we are fortunate to have an Education Committee of considerable quality, distinction and independent thought, and, given that this is its final bill in this session, it is perhaps appropriate to thank the members for their courtesy and consideration, not just with regard to this bill but across the board. I also commend Ken Macintosh for being spot on in his philosophical approach to the issues that the bill deals with.

The bill has been controversial. However, the consensus shown in today's debate allows it to proceed with the good wishes of all political parties and with a united commitment to make its provisions work and to ensure that young people and vulnerable adults are protected from exposure to unsuitable people in the workforce.

As many members have pointed out, attention now switches to implementation of the bill's provisions. Hugh Henry made it clear in his opening speech that the Executive will continue to consult widely on all aspects of implementation, not least retrospection and fees. We want people—although not, of course, the unsuitable people at whom the bill is aimed—to be comfortable with the arrangements. Dialogue has already begun with local authorities, the police, the voluntary sector, regulatory bodies, representative bodies and the national health service, and that will continue to be essential to inform the detail of secondary legislation.

As well as getting the detail of the legislation absolutely right, successful implementation will depend on the availability of clear and helpful guidance, training, and advice facilities through the central registered body in Scotland and others. We will consider with our stakeholders how best to put those measures in place.

As a number of members have said, we should not forget the roots of the bill: it follows the tragic murder of two young girls in Soham, who died at the hands of an individual who had substantial access to children through his work. The subsequent inquiry exposed critical deficiencies in how we vet people who have access to vulnerable groups through work and volunteering.

The bill delivers on Sir Michael Bichard's principal recommendation that there should be a system to register people who work with children and vulnerable adults. As well as providing for a robust vetting and barring system, it will make it an offence for those who are identified as unsuitable to work with vulnerable groups, and it will deliver the means to remove an individual if he or she becomes unsuitable. That means that, when we drop children off at school or when a family member goes into hospital or a care home, we should be able to be confident that the people who are charged with their well-being do not have a history of violent, abusive or cruel behaviour towards people in those circumstances. For those of us who work or volunteer, it means that we will no longer need to fill out a complicated form every time we change jobs or decide to help out at our local youth group or community centre. It also means that voluntary sector or statutory employers will be notified if any new information comes to light that makes someone unsuitable.

As Hugh Henry said earlier, the bill enhances the range of tools that employers use to help them to make safe and informed recruitment decisions—referring back to the Dunblane tragedy, David McLetchie reminded us how central recruitment decisions are to the operation of organisations at all levels.

The bill affects statutory and voluntary organisations, but I will finish by turning specifically to the voluntary sector, about which most concerns have been expressed. We value enormously the contribution made by the voluntary sector and by volunteers in a wide range of areas, not least those concerned with children or vulnerable adults. We want them to play an ever-increasing role. We want to have youth organisations and playgroups, parent-teacher associations and meals on wheels. We want our young people to have opportunities, excitement and fun and—yes—to take part in adventurous pursuits. We have to consider the risk culture. I made some observations on that during the passage of the bill.

The bill supports all of that by making it possible to exclude nasty and unsuitable people from the workforce. Protecting Scotland's most vulnerable people is a key responsibility of the Parliament, and I believe that the bill makes a significant and proportionate contribution to that. As well as streamlining and improving the disclosure process, it will afford greater protection to those who need it most.

We obviously accept that there is a lot of work yet to be done—Iain Smith made the telling comment that, in his view as convener of the Education Committee, the bill is fit for purpose as we do that work. I have often said that the biggest thing that I have learned since becoming an MSP and minister is that passing good laws is one thing, but making them work on the ground, considering the detail of the real situation, is 99 per cent of the challenge that faces us.

Against that background, in memory of instances when things have gone wrong in the past—as David McLetchie talked about—and recognising the wider context of the bill, I urge the united support of the chamber for the Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Bill.