Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Bill

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:17 pm on 8th March 2007.

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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.