Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Bill

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:08 pm on 8th March 2007.

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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.