Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Bill

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

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Photo of Hugh Henry Hugh Henry Labour 2:56 pm, 8th March 2007

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.