Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Bill

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:03 pm on 8th March 2007.

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

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.