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[Mr. Bill Olner in the Chair] — Independent Safeguarding Authority

– in Westminster Hall at 12:00 am on 5th January 2010.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.-(Mr. Frank Roy.)

Photo of Bill Olner Bill Olner Labour, Nuneaton 9:30 am, 5th January 2010

Members will be aware that our colleague, David Taylor, died suddenly over the Christmas period. David was not only a member of the Chairmen's Panel who chaired Westminster Hall, but an assiduous contributor to debates in this Chamber, so before we begin the first debate, I ask you all to stand for a moment of silence in his memory.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North 9:31 am, 5th January 2010

I would like to add my own comments on the tragic death of David Taylor. He was not only a great member of our party, but a great socialist and a personal friend, whom I shall miss greatly.

Leaving that sadness to one side, may I say how much I enjoy serving under your chairmanship again, Mr. Olner, and wish you and everyone else a happy new year? It will obviously be an interesting year politically, and it is a novel experience to make the first speech of the new year in this Chamber.

I welcome the opportunity to initiate the debate and would like to make several important points that I believe need to be highlighted and acted upon. What I will say is intended to reflect and support the campaign mounted by the TUC and Unison on the issue-hon. Members might be aware that I am a joint co-ordinator of the Unison parliamentary group. I acknowledge that since I requested the debate, my hon. Friend the Minister has accepted in full the recommendations made by Sir Roger Singleton. However, it is necessary to note that the scope of the Singleton report was specific. The review covered only those who volunteer with children, but of course the current definition of frequency applies to both children and vulnerable adults, whom, as I am sure that the Minister will agree, should be equally protected.

I must place it on record that the trade unions and other professional bodies involved in protecting vulnerable adults and children strongly endorse the principle of public protection. The terrible events at Soham and other cases in recent years have demonstrated that case to be unquestionable. However, several issues raised by the creation of the Independent Safeguarding Authority and its impact on working people need careful consideration.

The Minister will be fully aware, as we all are, that the public debate has understandably been dominated by high-profile media coverage-perhaps rather populist in tone-of the impact of the ISA scheme on voluntary groups such as scouts and local football clubs. Although those groups play a valuable-or even essential role-and are vital to society and local communities, much less coverage has been given to the impact of the scheme on the caring professions and public services, and the many thousands who entered their vocations in those professions and services to protect and assist the vulnerable and children, especially. It is that specific dimension of the debate that I wish to address today.

I am sure that hon. Members agree that the public will be best protected by a system that is risk-based and proportionate, and that addressing such issues intelligently will have a positive impact. I wish to highlight substantive concerns relating to ISA that trade unions and other professional bodies have raised.

Several concerns have been brought to my attention by the TUC coalition, which has been working to develop a constructive response to the ISA scheme. I understand that a productive meeting took place with my hon. Friend the Minister early in November, which was attended by, among others, Dave Prentis, the general secretary of Unison. Three key issues were raised at the meeting, the first of which was the cost of registration and the impact that it might have on low-paid or part-time staff, particularly women.

The second concern was about the duplication of registration for a number of individuals who are already on a professional register, such as nurses, midwives, doctors, social workers and teachers, all of whom are required to maintain a professional registration as a condition of their employment.

The final issue raised was the lack of an appeals process under the current legislation. Although individuals can appeal to the Care Standards Tribunal, as things stand that can be done only on a point of law or fact. The tribunal is not allowed to hear evidence on appropriateness, which can be challenged only by judicial review.

I shall address each of those points in turn. To appoint someone to a post that allows them to work with or have access to vulnerable adults or children, an employer, organisation or individual must first ensure that they meet the knowledge requirements and possess the skills for the post. People are also subject to a criminal record check for all relevant employment posts. Unison and the TUC are calling for the costs of registration to be borne by the employer as part of its recruitment costs. The Home Office has indicated that that is, in any case, a one-off cost, as monitoring will then be ongoing for all employees. That being the case, it is reasonable and appropriate that employers fund the associated registration costs. If an employer is securing the services of an individual, surely ensuring their safety and suitability to be in that working environment should be included within its recruitment costs.

All the trade union organisations have expressed concern about registration fees' impact on individuals. In particular, Unison has questioned why a school meals cook or catering assistant working a few shifts a week should pay the same registration fee as a head teacher. That is surely unfair and inequitable by any standards. It is too early to assess the future impact on services, but we could, for example, face the spectacle of an individual having to pay to register so that they may serve school children their meals, but not facing such requirements in a local supermarket canteen. In those circumstances, an individual might choose to work in a supermarket and not apply to work in schools, to the detriment of the school meals service and contrary to the individual's initial preferences.

Robust arguments have been put to me by the TUC coalition and Unison about the impact on those who are already on a professional register yet will have to register with both ISA and their professional regulator. With the current proposals, under the definition of "harm", the professional regulators could spend more time referring cases to ISA than investigating them and taking professional decisions on whether a person should remain on the register. I understand that several regulators have expressed similar concerns about the impact that the ISA process will have on their fitness-to-practise processes.

To illustrate that point, I shall refer to a relevant case, which has been provided to me by Unison, of a nurse working in a mental health trust who, in restraining a service user, used a control and restraint technique that caused bruising. The service user complained and stated that the use of the technique breached their human rights and caused them harm. They also made a written complaint to the regulator, the Nursing and Midwifery Council. Having investigated and referred the case to a fitness-to-practise hearing, the panel concluded that although the use of control was appropriate, the nurse did not use the correct technique as their training was not current. The panel therefore decided to issue the nurse with a one-year caution and recommended updating their control and restraint training.

As the examples and definition of harm issued by ISA are so broad, however, that case would now also have to be referred to the authority. ISA would then consider all the information and might write to the person indicating its intention to place them on the banned list. The nurse would then have eight weeks to submit a statement to put forward their case. Their only opportunity to challenge appropriateness at that stage would be via judicial review. However, if the allegation was more serious, a judicial review at that stage would prevent ISA from concluding its decision, thus placing the individual concerned on the banned list.

In seeking to find a viable solution to the potential dilemma, Unison and the TUC have suggested a slight change to the appeal process that would enable the Care Standards Tribunal to hear all the evidence, including that relating to appropriateness. That would not cause delay to the ISA decision-making process, but ensure that any person whose livelihood would be taken away from them had the opportunity to seek redress and challenge and examine all the evidence. Indeed, Unison and the TUC have also suggested that any person who was on a professional register should have their case heard and concluded by the relevant professional regulator first. Each of the regulators would jointly agree with ISA a protocol for referring relevant cases. That would avoid the current duplication, enable the case to be heard and all the material facts to be considered and taken into account, and allow decisions to be made and conclusions reached more quickly and efficiently.

The Royal College of Nursing, in particular, has added its own emphasis to the need for a right to a fair hearing for individuals. Currently, appeals and hearings can be only paper-based and, as I said earlier, made only on a point of fact or law. The RCN believes that that breaches the European convention on human rights. It also emphasises the unnecessary duplication of registration that I referred to earlier, and is concerned that there is a lack of clarity surrounding how ISA will work alongside professional regulators such as the Nursing and Midwifery Council. The RCN believes that that could lead to conflicting decisions being made by the two bodies.

As I said at the beginning of my speech, the TUC coalition and all its constituent organisations support the principle of public protection. However, several requirements proposed by the legislation might have a negative impact if regulators become weighed down with a 20-page referral form and are unable to meet their statutory obligation of public protection. The public can best be protected by a risk-based and proportionate system, and addressing these issues will have a positive impact and measurably improve statutory requirements and the safeguarding system, which, in other respects, are both necessary and appropriate. I look forward to hearing the comments of other hon. Members and what I hope will be a positive response from my hon. Friend the Minister.

Photo of Charlotte Atkins Charlotte Atkins Labour, Staffordshire Moorlands 9:41 am, 5th January 2010

I congratulate my hon. Friend Kelvin Hopkins on securing this important debate-although I am sure he was not hoping that it would be the first debate of the day, at 9.30 on our first day back. It is an important debate, and there has already been a great deal of discussion about the scheme.

Inevitably, after the Soham murders, everyone supports the principle of safe and effective public protection and welcomes the steps being taken by the Government to improve safeguarding and to protect children and vulnerable adults. That support is still very strong, but as people have had the opportunity to look at the details of the vetting and barring scheme, concerns have inevitably come to the fore, particularly among those people who work with such issues every day.

I am pleased that the Government have already acted to make the scheme less burdensome and more proportionate. For instance, it makes absolute sense to exempt children's authors, sportspeople and, in my constituency, ceramic artists who go into schools to work with children and inspire them; they should not be subject to burdensome regulations under the scheme. I am pleased that 16 to 18-year-olds who help out in schools or sports organisations will also be exempt. That makes absolute sense, because we do not want to do anything that would deny those young people the great opportunity of sharing their skills with younger pupils or other people. Good sense has also prevailed in respect of parents making private arrangements to care for each other's children. It was crazy to have a situation in which a police officer was told that looking after another police officer's children was somehow breaking the rules. Clearly, that makes no sense at all, and such people will not be affected in the future.

However, there is a group of parents-the 40,000 parents who home educate their children-who are up in arms about the extra checks that they will face in the future under the Badman report. That issue does not come directly within the scope of this debate, but it is part of what is, perhaps, the over-protection of children, and part of the difficult process of striking the right balance in keeping children safe without being unduly burdensome, bureaucratic or invasive. Many of those parents, who are doing a fantastic job educating their children at home, feel that the hand of the law on their shoulder suggesting that perhaps their own children are at risk is not acceptable, and I agree with them. We have to get the balance right.

Volunteers and the voluntary sector play an important and increasing role in our communities, so I am delighted that volunteers will not have to pay the ISA registration fee. I am a volunteer myself, with a fantastic charity called Rudyard Sailability. We work with disabled children and adults, and I am delighted that that charity will not have the extra burden of having to pay the fee. However, I remember that the process of having my Criminal Records Bureau check done was very bureaucratic. It put a great burden on the gentleman who dealt with that on behalf of the charity, and I would be worried if this check created such burdens for voluntary sector organisations, whether they be disabled sailing charities such as mine, sports clubs or churches.

I hope that the ISA process will not overburden such organisations. They would much rather spend their energies dealing with their client groups and giving them the good time that they want to give them, rather than filling in forms. It is important that we get this right and do not alienate volunteers. They will not have to pay the charge, but obviously they give their time freely, and if that time is taken up with form-filling, it will not be as attractive an option as working with vulnerable client groups.

I, too, am a member of the public sector union Unison. I should like to discuss some of the issues that my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North addressed. I believe that many MPs have come across cases of people who could not fully take up employment because their CRB check had not been done. That is worrying, particularly for someone in their first job. They want to start off well, but they are prevented from taking up their post because the CRB check has not come through, perhaps for a purely bureaucratic reason-the papers might have been lost. It has nothing to do with the individual applicant, but if the CRB check takes a long time to come through, it begins to reflect on the applicant. I do not want the same thing to happen with the ISA checks.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North

My hon. Friend talks about delays in CRB checks, and I am sure that other hon. Members have come across that problem in other circumstances. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will find ways of ensuring that CRB checks are undertaken quickly, and that explanations are given if there are delays.

Photo of Charlotte Atkins Charlotte Atkins Labour, Staffordshire Moorlands

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Although the CRB check is a totally independent process, people get worried if there is a delay, and it appears to reflect on the individual. Clearly, it does not, but people who are starting a new job want to make a good impression, so it is important that the process is properly carried out. I do not expect the Minister to tell me at this point how long she expects the ISA checks to take, but it is vital that they are done quickly; otherwise, we will create a huge bureaucratic merry-go-round, which we do not want.

Many individuals are already subject to professional registration, and it seems over the top for people who have had to go through that process also to have to go through the ISA scheme. I understand that the new ISA scheme will duplicate the existing regulation of public protection for almost 4 million workers-a huge proportion of the estimated 11 million who will be covered under that scheme. Surely, this does not make any sense.

I turn now to the cost of registration to the individual. Individuals in paid employment will effectively be subsidising the voluntary sector. I am in favour of that, but I am worried because the fee in England and Wales will be £64, which in anyone's book is a substantial sum-it will be £58 in Northern Ireland-that is hugely higher than the original estimate of just £20. That is a huge burden for a low-paid part-time cook, for instance. The school cooks in my local schools do a fantastic job. I do not want to see their skills diluted in any way.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North

I thank my hon. Friend for emphasising this important point about costs, which will have a differential effect on people from different social classes. In a constituency such as mine with a number of people on low incomes, the cost will act as a disincentive to volunteering, whereas it will mean little in a more affluent town where £64 is pocket money and pocket change. My hon. Friend has emphasised this point correctly.

Photo of Charlotte Atkins Charlotte Atkins Labour, Staffordshire Moorlands

There are school cooks in my area, in Leek and Biddulph, who have worked for the service for decades, have served youngsters and their parents too and are a valued institution. Those school cooks have really taken through the healthy foods initiative in schools and encouraged youngsters to try different foods, and they have had to struggle with menus that have been difficult to sell to young people. They are the people who encourage children to eat healthily. They do not just cook and serve the food; they engage with the children. I do not want any of those excellent ladies-and some gentlemen-who are doing a marvellous job, to find that the £64 is too much for them to bear. Why should they have to bear that cost? It makes no sense. They are public servants who are doing a fantastic job.

As my hon. Friend said, it might be loose change for a chief executive or a senior head teacher-

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way yet again and I apologise for intervening so frequently. A long report on the radio yesterday mentioned the impact of healthy meals on children's performance at schools and the massive contribution made by school cooks and catering workers to that. The more we can encourage children to eat healthy school meals, the better they will perform and the better they will be as citizens in the future.

Photo of Charlotte Atkins Charlotte Atkins Labour, Staffordshire Moorlands

I, too, heard that report, which denied the myth that the healthy school food initiative had been a failure and demonstrated that school catering teams had done a fantastic job throughout the country introducing healthy food. We do not want to see that work put at risk.

The registration cost makes no sense. Trading standards' fees for a small local delicatessen are different from those for a major company such as Tesco. We obviously should have a graduated fee system that would ensure that there was a proportionate response, because we want it to be proportionate and we do not want to lose public sector workers to the private sector and thereby lose their expertise and skills. It is vital that we ensure that we maintain those people within the schools.

All those risks could be avoided if the employer was required to pay the registration fee. That would be the best way forward, because the one-off fee could be incorporated in the recruitment costs of those excellent staff, rather than introducing any of the negative implications or unforeseen effects of the fee on low-paid staff. That is important.

Given that we have time to look at some of the details of the ISA, I hope that those issues are taken seriously by the Minister and thoroughly considered, because although the scheme is important it is also important that we get it absolutely right and that it works effectively. I hope that the Minister will respond positively to some of those points.

Photo of Laura Moffatt Laura Moffatt Labour, Crawley 9:55 am, 5th January 2010

I support my parliamentary colleagues in their attempt to get clarity on the implementation of the Independent Safeguarding Authority. None of us is here to do it down or to create difficulties where we do not think that there are any, and most of us are supportive. A group of organisations has come together on this matter, and I am glad to say that Unison is taking a lead in that. I say that as a lifetime working member of Unison who was part of the creation of the Confederation of Health Service Employees and moved into Unison in the nursing profession. These proposals and changes are sensible and proportionate. As a listening Minister, my hon. Friend will be keen to hear those concerns, although I know that she has had a series of meetings with those with particular issues to discuss.

The last thing that we need is for people to be deterred from going into the caring professions, which are not well paid for millions of people, particularly women. It is important that we ensure that those professions are welcoming, and we are keen to ensure that new people come into the caring professions to revive them and do extremely difficult jobs. People do not do it for the money: it is difficult. I have worked alongside all sorts of carers for 25 years and it is obvious that people are coming into the profession because they want to and because they know that they can make a difference.

It would be easy to say, "Well, people are getting upset about the new overarching authority, because if you've something in your background, you'd be afraid to disclose that." That is untrue. The reality is that, overwhelmingly, the people working in the caring professions with vulnerable young people, children and babies are straight as a die and honest. The last thing that we want to do is to put them off and turn them out into another profession. It is important that, whatever we do with the implementation of the authority, it is proportionate and understandable.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Shadow Minister (Children, Young People and Families)

I want to ask the hon. Lady about the important point that she has raised. She says that those who go into the caring professions have nothing to worry about if they have a clean bill of health in respect of their backgrounds. However, there is a worrying increase in the number of people who are given cautions for sexual offences-it has been increasing year on year-and many may not understand that, by accepting a caution, they could be ruling themselves out of all those jobs in future. Has she talked to her contacts about that?

Photo of Laura Moffatt Laura Moffatt Labour, Crawley

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that issue. All of us as Members of Parliament have had issues brought to us by our constituents. However, one major issue is not the offence but disclosure and ensuring that people understand at the time that, if they accept a caution, it may affect their future. Education and information for people at that stage are crucial to the whole process. I agree that the new way of dealing with offences and the changes have implications for people, but although it is proportionate-a major offence should not be dealt with in that way-they need information, so that they know about the effect that that will have on them.

There are many people whom we believe will be ideal for the profession, and the last thing that we should do is set up a host of hurdles for those who are willing, particularly younger people who are looking at the caring professions. The economic climate has changed, and a lot of younger people are now looking to the public sector for their future vocation. For many people, it is a vocation to be a midwife or a nurse or to work in a school. Therefore, there will be increased demand, but let me reiterate that many of those people will be relatively low paid. There appears to be no mechanism to take account of that-it might be a head teacher who applies, as was mentioned earlier, or a dinner lady-and we need to give that issue some attention.

My hon. Friends have said, quite rightly, that ensuring that the employer pays the initial fee for joining the register would take away many of those obstacles. It would make people feel that, if they entered a profession, the commitment from the employer would be there. Having checked with local trusts in my constituency, I accept that many employers will be prepared to do that, but there is no mandatory fixture for them to say that they will pay. I believe that good employers would pay that fee, but that might not happen in some organisations. We need everybody to be certain that the issue will be dealt with in that way.

My hon. Friends raised the issue of volunteering. We are greatly relieved that volunteers will not only be dealt with proportionately through the changes already made, but that they will not have to foot the bill for any of the work that they do. Many of us know of local organisations where people dedicate their time and energy to making lives better for our constituents. Nevertheless, we should consider one issue: it is good that volunteers will not be asked to pay, but that is based on the principle that 11 million people in work will contribute in some way, either through the employer or personally, to allow the system to function properly. Once again, is it fair to allow the dinner lady to subsidise volunteering? Pleased as we are that volunteers will not pay, is it right and proportionate that those on lower incomes will contribute?

Those are just some of the issues. I completely support the principle and the notion behind the authority, as does the impressive coalition of good, sound organisations that have come together to consider the matters in detail and provide a sense of proportionality about what is needed to protect our professions. None of us wants the authority to fail or to be ineffective-it flows from the Bichard inquiry, which was set up after the Soham murders. If we could have prevented those murders by having a more effective register, we would have wanted to do so. Therefore, it is in a spirit of support and of wanting the authority to function that we appeal to the Minister this morning to look at these matters in detail and to respond as positively as she can.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families) 10:04 am, 5th January 2010

I start by wishing you, Mr. Olner, and all those present a very happy new year. On behalf of my party, I also wish to put on record our sadness at the news of the loss of David Taylor, and our appreciation of the work that he did, not only on the Chairman's Panel, but through the passionate way in which he made his case on the Floor of the House. He was a Member for whom there was genuinely a great deal of respect and admiration across parties, and he will be greatly missed, not only by Labour Members, but by hon. Members on the other side of the House.

I also congratulate Kelvin Hopkins on securing the debate, which, as he mentioned, is the first of this important political year. We are debating an extremely important topic, and I commend him for setting out his case with extraordinary brevity and in such a straightforward way. He did not take up a huge amount of time, which has allowed a number of hon. Members to contribute, and permits us to touch on not only some of the points that he raised, but some of the other issues arising from last year's Singleton review. This is probably our first parliamentary opportunity to debate that review and the important amendments that have been made to the previous proposals for the Independent Safeguarding Authority.

A number of hon. Members referred to the background of the establishment of the Independent Safeguarding Authority and to some of the concerns that led to it being set up. We want to place on record our recognition of the importance of this issue, and our concerns about the deficiencies of the previous regime that led to this body being set up, with all its associated costs and controversies. Previously, a lot of the information that was available about some individuals regarding whom there were safeguarding concerns was not consolidated in a way that allowed children to be properly protected. An undesirably political element to the protection regime has been swept away as part of the reforms-we think that that demise is sensible.

The measures implemented by the Government should be proportionate and realistic, and they should not place unreasonable costs on individuals or particular bodies. Over the past few months, there have been considerable concerns not only in the education world, but in all those areas where the protection of children and vulnerable adults is an issue, about whether the legislation and regulations were out of control, and whether they were imposing unreasonable costs and duties that could be counter-productive and might drive many law-abiding citizens away from being involved in the support of children and vulnerable adults, particularly in a voluntary capacity.

There were genuine concerns that the measures being introduced would have unintended consequences. Outside the education world, we got to a situation in which even the police were being required to register their own staff members, who were obviously already going through other vetting procedures. At a time when budgets were beginning to be tight, there were concerns that the police would need to make large financial provision to put a high proportion of their own staff through this new procedure at £64 a head. I was astonished when I heard the costs that were going to fall on the Avon and Somerset constabulary in my area as a consequence of those vetting and barring procedures. We are therefore pleased that the Government have looked again at some of those matters as a consequence of the Singleton review, and that some of the deficiencies to which hon. Members have referred have been dealt with. However, we still have some concerns about the proposals of Sir Roger Singleton's committee, which I will return to in a moment.

The hon. Members for Luton, North, for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Charlotte Atkins) and for Crawley (Laura Moffatt) made extremely important points, some of which involved issues that have been of public concern and reported in the media. Other issues have remained under the surface, and while they are of concern to particular employees and employer groups, they have not become part of the wider public debate. All those matters are important and I would like to touch on them today.

I understand that the hon. Member for Luton, North is concerned about three issues: first, who should pay these costs and, in the case of low-paid employees, whether that cost should be picked up by the employer; and, secondly, whether the available appeals processes are sufficiently robust, and how rapidly they will take effect. Importantly-I think that this was also raised by the hon. Members for Staffordshire, Moorlands and for Crawley-the third issue is whether the principles in the Singleton report relating to police exemptions should be extended to other professional groups. I hope that the Government will consider that seriously, because if credible vetting procedures are in place for professional groups, we should not try to replicate them. We were particularly concerned about the situation relating to the police. Some of the other professional groups were not raised with us, so today's debate is an interesting opportunity to discuss some of those issues.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his very helpful comments. We are concerned about the wider question of duplication with other professional bodies not just in relation to the police, but in all cases in which professional bodies and regulators do checks beforehand.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

I am grateful for that clarification. I hope that the Minister will respond to the hon. Gentleman's important point.

Let me go through some of these areas and several of the other issues that are still outstanding in relation to the legislation and regulations under discussion. When the matter was first debated in the House, both Opposition parties expressed a great deal of concern about many of the loose ends, the limited time to deal with a very detailed subject and the potential unintended consequences. We have seen from the Singleton review the justification for those concerns and the need for us to look again at the regulations to see whether they could be implemented more sensibly. We are not convinced that all the proposals that will be in place by next year are quite right yet, although we accept that the Singleton report and the Government's acceptance of it represent a significant move forward.

Let me first raise one important concern about the Singleton recommendations. I think that the hon. Member for Luton, North, quite deliberately, did not seek to touch on it, but it is, for us, an important residual point that comes out of the recommendations, which were published in December. It relates to recommendation 3, on "Frequent and intensive contact", and the associated recommendation 4 on "Visits to different settings". In some ways, both recommendations seek to take into account the concerns expressed about whether the regulations would be excessively burdensome. In recommendation 3, Sir Roger seeks to redefine the frequent and intensive contact tests so that they would essentially come into place if people were going into schools and coming into contact with vulnerable individuals once a week or more regularly. The intensive contact test is defined in terms of four contacts a month.

Our concern is not that that is not a small move in the right direction, but that it does not really deal with the question of what individuals are doing when they are in the particular settings and whether they are really likely to pose a risk. In other words, we think that it is framed too much in terms of frequency of contact and does not consider in sufficient detail what the contact constitutes. Many people would regard it as obvious that when an individual comes into contact with children or vulnerable adults in an environment in which they are the only adult present, or when they are in a particularly vulnerable setting-perhaps involving an overnight stay, or sports or some such activity-there are reasons for ensuring that the safeguards in place are very secure. However, many other people who go into educational establishments or who come into contact with vulnerable children and adults might be doing so with a much lower risk characteristic, particularly when those individuals are coming into schools or other settings where there is another adult who might already be the approved and vetted adult present.

Many of us can think of occasions on which individuals come from outside school settings to talk to children, sometimes quite regularly, but those contacts take place wholly with one of the existing members of the teaching staff in place. That seems not to be properly taken into account in the recommendations and in the Government's plans, so we have a situation that is framed too much around frequency and not enough around the actual risk inherent in any particular situation.

That concern was raised by Mrs. Miller when this matter was first debated.

"As a school governor myself, I have seen instances in which outside organisations have come into the school without ever being left in sole charge of the children with whom they come into contact."-[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 11 July 2006; c. 77.]

She said that there would be activities that did not need to be monitored, but that equally there would be circumstances, such as those outlined on that day, in which there would be concerns. I should like to know whether the Government have given, or will give, more consideration to whether the nature of the contact and the risks inherent in that should be considered more seriously and whether, therefore, more flexibility could be built into the procedures, but obviously not in relation to contacts that would be particularly high risk.

I should also like clarification of the linked proposal-recommendation 4, which relates to visits to different settings. My understanding of that is that Sir Roger has concluded that if an individual comes into contact with a vulnerable adult or a child on a regular basis, there is cause for concern that some sort of abusive relationship might develop in unusual circumstances and that therefore protection is needed. However, Sir Roger seems to have decided that if an individual comes into contact with a range of young people or vulnerable adults, but not the same young people or vulnerable adults, the potential for an abusive relationship to develop would be much lower and therefore the toleration of contact with those different individuals should be much higher.

I can understand the argument that if an individual comes into contact frequently with vulnerable adults or with the same children, there is the potential for a relationship to develop that could be abused, but I can also see an apparent irrationality. My understanding is that if, for example, an individual was coming into a secondary school from the outside but was having contact with children in different classes, they would essentially have an exemption from some of the other proposals in relation to frequency and intensity of contact. It seems bizarre that those individuals might be able to come into contact with individuals in a potentially exposed setting quite frequently, but provided that it was with different individuals, they would be exempt from the frequent and intensive contact proposals. I wonder whether that is sensible, particularly given that those individuals, even if they are coming into contact with different classes or individuals formally in the classroom, might still be able to meet up with children or vulnerable adults whom they had met in another formal setting as they worked their way around the institution.

I therefore have yet to be persuaded that recommendations 3 and 4 deal sensibly and pragmatically with this particularly crucial issue. I think that, in some senses, recommendation 4 leaves some scope for abuse and child protection concerns, but recommendation 3 does not go nearly far enough in allowing exemptions for the large number of adults who come into contact with young people and vulnerable adults but do so in a setting where the risks are extraordinarily low and, in particular, where another adult who has been vetted is already in the setting. I invite the Minister to comment on that and let us know whether the Government will look at the matter again.

I should like to pick up the point that the hon. Member for Luton, North made about other professional groups and whether the exemptions that have now been extended to the police, following the Singleton report and the Home Secretary's response to it, could be extended to other groups on the basis of the checks that already have to take place. Even after Sir Roger's proposals, the new regulations will still relate to between 9 million and 9.5 million people, and possibly many more over time. If it is possible to work within the framework of the current checks, rather than introducing new bureaucracy, I hope that we can pursue that.

Will the Minister comment on a number of other issues that have been left hanging in the air as a consequence of the Secretary of State's statement at the end of last year? First, Sir Roger recommended further work on three of the proposals at the end of his report. Under what time scale can we expect the Government to complete that work and bring recommendations to the House? Is it likely to be before the spring or will it be well into the future? Secondly, when will there be a new impact assessment of the proposals as amended by Singleton? Will it include an assessment of their benefits in terms of reducing the potential for abuse?

I want to pick up a point made by the hon. Member for Luton, North. I have concerns about whether the appeals process can be strengthened and about the time taken to process checks. As the hon. Gentleman mentioned, there is a lot of evidence to show that the processing is taking far too long. If people believe that processing will take a long time, organisations, employees and volunteers may be deterred from entering into arrangements, which could have a damaging impact.

Finally, we heard about the cost of processing. In some cases, particularly those of a more voluntary nature, the expectation is that the individual, sadly, will have to bear the cost. However, a legitimate point can be made, particularly in the case of low-paid individuals, about whether the employer should pick up the cost. Although £64 might seem a relatively small amount for somebody on a high income, it is a lot for somebody on a low income, particularly if they have been out of employment for a long time. People who go back into employment often face transport and other costs, which can be quite large and which can act as a genuine disincentive to taking up work. I therefore have some sympathy with the points made by the hon. Member for Luton, North and his hon. Friends, and I hope that the Government will respond positively.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Shadow Minister (Children, Young People and Families) 10:22 am, 5th January 2010

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship in the first debate of the new year, Mr. Olner. I echo the sentiments that you expressed about the sad loss of David Taylor. I am sure that all our thoughts are with his wife and family at this sad time.

On a lighter note, I congratulate Kelvin Hopkins on securing the debate and on setting out so clearly some of the real concerns that remain about the Independent Safeguarding Authority. It is important that we do that, because the organisation was conceived to help some of the most vulnerable people in our communities-those with whom we perhaps deal most as constituency Members of Parliament-and to ensure that they are appropriately protected. As we have heard from several hon. Members, various organisations, including trade unions, have concerns about the impact of the legislation on their workers and particularly on the lowest-paid.

The Government's approach to the new vetting system, which has evolved over more than four years, and the creation of the ISA reflect some of the more troubling issues-[Interruption.]

Photo of Bill Olner Bill Olner Labour, Nuneaton

Order. I must remind officials that they cannot pass notes to members of the public at the back of the room. I would appreciate it if they would refrain from doing that.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Shadow Minister (Children, Young People and Families)

Among the most troubling issues that our communities face is the implication that we can eliminate risk from the lives of children or vulnerable adults, with the result that we break down the trust that exists in our communities. Although those are much broader issues, and there probably is not enough time to debate them today, we should ensure in all our deliberations that we do not try to create a feeling that society is devoid of risk. We should ensure that employers and voluntary organisations take responsibility for such issues in how they operate.

It is unsurprising that there has been widespread concern about the role and remit of the ISA, given that the organisation's scope has evolved so much under secondary legislation over the past four years. That is perhaps another reason why the Government should have included in the original legislation more of the detail of how the new vetting procedure would work. Many feel that we have moved away from the original intentions outlined in Sir Michael Bichard's report; indeed, there are indications that he himself feels that.

The Secretary of State's most recent guidance on the Singleton review simply serves to underline the fact that the new ISA legislation lacks a clear statement of the principles guiding the vetting process, so perhaps the Minister can take the opportunity afforded by the debate to clarify the issue. As we have heard from today's contributions, there is a real lack of clarity even about who has to be vetted. There is no coherent rationale, and the catch-all approach that formed our starting point seems to have evolved into a catch-all with significant caveats, which have been inserted by the Secretary of State in an attempt to prevent the whole organisation from being derailed. We need a much clearer articulation of the principles guiding the ISA, as well as a recognition that no system can guarantee the safety of children and vulnerable adults and that police checks are simply a record of the past, not a substitute for every organisation taking ultimate responsibility for those who work in them.

The most important part of the debate is the Minister's response, so I will outline only briefly some of the other issues that she may want to talk about. Mr. Laws rightly said that the Singleton report covered a number of concerns, but there is still a lack of clarity about exactly who must be monitored and vetted. Given that the principles must be implemented by employers, employees and voluntary organisations, the most important point is surely that we have a simple set of rules that everybody can understand, rather than the complexity that we have now.

Although we originally expected a Minister from the Department for Children, Schools and Families to respond, the Minister is from the Home Office, so she might like to give us a quick update on how the police are getting on with their new database. Is it as up-to-date as it needs to be? Is it working in the way that she hoped it would? Are there are any concerns or reviews that we should be aware of? Those issues are outside my departmental responsibilities, so I would appreciate an update.

Another issue that the Minister could usefully mention is the clear ineptitude that has been demonstrated in communications on the new way of vetting. There have been several misconceptions about who should be vetted, some of which hon. Members have echoed today. The original legislation was never intended to touch on private understandings, but they are widely thought to be covered. Indeed, in his letter to Roger Singleton on 14 December, the Secretary of State says:

"I strongly agree with you that we need to intensify our communications efforts in order to dispel myths and ensure that there is a wide understanding of how the scheme will apply."

Is that an admission that the Government have failed properly to communicate the details of the scheme? What has been learned from those mistakes? How exactly will the Minister communicate with employers and employees about how the ISA will work? We discussed those issues extensively in Committee, and I feel rather disappointed that the Government took no heed of what the Opposition said.

Another issue was raised directly with me in a round-table seminar with a wide range of experts that I hosted just before the Christmas break-the uncertainty about whether children's attendance with organisations as, say, part of their year 10 work experience would trigger a monitoring requirement for the organisation's employees, since a week's placement could satisfy the intensity test. If so, has the Minister taken into account the numbers who would be vetted? That is a matter that particularly concerns schools and organisations that are trying to set up such placements. A parallel issue is internships. We welcome the clarification to the effect that vetting would not be required of 16, 17 or 18-year-olds working with children or vulnerable adults as part of their school or college training. However, many university students may have short or long-term work experience placements. Why would they not be exempt too? Surely that would be an important part of their academic studies.

It is unclear why overseas visitors looking after their own children have a three-month exemption from registering. They will come into contact with children from this country on a frequent or intensive basis-say at a scouts' jamboree camp. Perhaps the Minister will explain the choice of the three-month period, which seems somewhat arbitrary, and why there is a shorter period before having to register-I think it is about 28 days-for parents in the UK who come into contact with children from overseas through exchange visits.

The portability of the new system is to be welcomed and I think that many of my constituents see it as an asset of the scheme, but will the Minister clarify whether employers will still be required to seek an enhanced disclosure for people in certain jobs once they are ISA-registered? The ministerial response to the Singleton review seems to be to advise employers that all the information needed to check the suitability of a candidate will be held by the ISA and that thus an enhanced disclosure will not be needed. There is a lack of understanding and clarity about that among voluntary organisations, and it would be a good thing if the Minister were to clarify it today.

Concerns were expressed in the round-table seminar that I mentioned about the decision-making powers of ISA caseworkers. They have the opportunity to change someone's life: it is fundamental. Will the Minister explain the training that they will receive, the prerequisite qualifications and experience for the job, the management structure of the ISA and to whom caseworkers will be accountable? Perhaps she will also clarify the type of information that caseworkers will observe, and the information that they will be able to pass on to employers. Concerns have been raised with me that information about third parties living in the house of a potential employee or volunteer might be passed to voluntary organisations, which might put the individual receiving it in an extremely difficult position. What safeguards are there to ensure that caseworkers do not misuse the information given to them?

An important group of people affected by the measures is ex-offenders. The St. Giles Trust has raised concerns about how the scheme could prevent them from re-entering the labour market. Sir Roger Singleton noted:

"The process of ISA registration is viewed by many as a potential and significant disincentive to ex-offenders who may wish to engage in this work".

The ISA is apparently engaged in discussions with rehabilitative organisations, and perhaps the Minister will explain what action the Department is taking to encourage ex-offenders, and to educate employers, to ensure that the ISA will not have the negative impact that so many fear it will.

The hon. Members for Luton, North and for Crawley (Laura Moffatt) have already discussed the costs of registration, so I shall not do so further, other than to say that I share the hon. Lady's concern that they may disproportionately affect female workers and those who choose to enter the caring professions, perhaps after having a family.

The issue of overseas workers, although tangential to the points raised by the hon. Member for Luton, North, is probably of concern to trade union members. I have raised it with the Government in the past four years, and it has still not been fully addressed. In June 2006 the then Minister of State said that the Government were developing protocols with 21 different countries about how to deal with information about overseas workers who put themselves forward to be registered under the new system. Three years later, the Government have made initial agreements with Australia, France and Ireland-three countries. That is well short of the original objective. That was confirmed recently in a debate in the other place, when the Government spokesman Baroness Morgan said:

"Concern was expressed about engaging with international protocols. I can confirm that we have an initial agreement with Australia and that we are in ongoing discussions with France and Ireland."-[Official Report, House of Lords, 8 July 2009; Vol. 712, c. GC240.]

Considering the substantial number of individuals from overseas who now work in many areas that will be covered by the new registration process and about whose background and records there will be no information on the database, there seems to be a continuing glaring hole in the process. The Government have resisted any system of flagging the fact that someone has been working overseas, to give employers a heads-up on the fact that their ISA check is incomplete. Perhaps union members will be interested in that, because it means that there are two sets of rules for people applying for jobs. It is important that, if records are incomplete, that should be flagged up to employers and voluntary organisations.

It is clear from the debate today, and the debate that has been going on outside Parliament, that there are big questions about how workable the new system will be. We are trying to create a system that will be implemented by employers, employees and voluntary organisations. If those of us who have been involved in the debate for four years find it difficult to unpick the Government's intentions, the Minister would do best to tell the House that some fundamental reviews are being undertaken, beyond what has been done by Singleton; otherwise, she is storing up significant problems for the future.

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Identity) 10:37 am, 5th January 2010

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Olner. I share the sadness that has been expressed about the death of my friend and colleague David Taylor, who was a fellow Co-operative MP and, as you said, a very active Member in Westminster Hall. It is fitting that we should remember him today.

I thank my hon. Friend Kelvin Hopkins for obtaining the debate. The issue is of great importance, and I am glad of the opportunity to clarify some of the matters that he raised and those raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Charlotte Atkins) and for Crawley (Laura Moffatt) and the hon. Members for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) and for Basingstoke (Mrs. Miller).

It is worth my giving an overview of the scheme, but I want to move quickly on to deal with the many points that have been raised. It is worth reiterating a fact on which I am glad that we have the support of hon. Members from all parties: we want a scheme that will ensure that we do our best to prevent the risk of harm involving those working with children and, just as importantly, vulnerable adults. I agree with the comments of the hon. Member for Basingstoke about where risk lies. Whatever the Government do, they can never eliminate all risk, and it is important that the system that we are debating should be seen as part of the armoury of information that an employer can have in making a decision about whether it is safe for someone to work in a particular environment.

The scheme provides a simple, one-off registration that is-to reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North-free for volunteers and allows an organisation placing volunteers to verify the information quickly and free of charge, without requiring the disclosure of sensitive criminal records data. As hon. Members know, the scheme comes out of the terrible events in Soham. We have made quite a lot of progress. The hon. Member for Basingstoke called for fundamental reviews, but given the fact that the scheme was launched in October and will, as I shall outline, progress rapidly this year, a fundamental review at this stage would mean that we would have no scheme. Four years on, that would be a foolish step. I shall explain, and respond to hon. Members' points about, some of the matters that we are considering, because I am ever aware of the need to ensure that what we establish is proportionate and not over-bureaucratic and that it does what it is supposed to do. I shall set that out clearly.

The scheme was launched on 12 October last year. It was the first stage of the process, under which the three existing barring lists-the protection of vulnerable aduits and Protection of Children Act lists and list 99-were replaced by the two ISA barred lists, the lists of those barred from working with children or vulnerable adults. Some people would appear on both lists, and some on one or the other.

A crucial point is worth stressing, as we have not talked enough about vulnerable adults in our four years of debate. Employers have had a legal duty imposed on them to refer to the ISA information about an individual who may pose a risk to children or vulnerable adults. That is critical. As a carer of a particularly vulnerable adult, I have seen over the years what can happen in some care settings-both professionally and personally. For example, an agency worker or a member of staff who is under investigation may choose to leave that employment. The employer does not need to take further action, because he no longer employs that person. Indeed, his investigation may not have progressed that far. On the same day, the individual can register with another employer or agency, sometimes working in the same care setting. From now on, if there is even a question mark or if an investigation has been started, that individual has to leave that employer and has a legal duty to provide that information. We will see some significant step changes in tackling the few-I echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley-bad apples who may pose a risk to vulnerable adults. That will be an important step.

There are also new criminal penalties for barred individuals who work or apply to work with vulnerable groups. Applying to work will itself be a criminal offence if one has been barred. Criminal penalties were introduced to deal with employers who knowingly take on people with a poor record.

About 15,000 people are on the ISA list of barred adults and 19,200 people are on the children's list, but as I said, some appear on both lists. The reasons for inclusion in the lists include physical abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse, drug offences, neglect and emotional abuse. Paedophilia is only one reason why the scheme is essential. It is important to see things in the round. It is important to note that the majority of those on the current lists were moved from the previous barred lists, which is why so many have been added in such a short time.

From July 2010, all new employees and volunteers who regularly come into contact with children or vulnerable people can be ISA-registered before starting work. Individuals will be able to apply for ISA registration and an enhanced Criminal Records Bureau check on one application form. I shall talk about fees in a moment, but the bureaucratic procedure is similar to going through a CRB check. For the individual, it will involve much the same process.

The crucial aspect of the new scheme compared with existing and previous regimes is that people will be continuously monitored and their status reassessed whenever new information is received. There will be automatic triggers to ensure that such information is provided to the ISA. The employer will be able to register an interest in an individual with that person's consent. For example, were I to apply to for a job in a care home, I would be able to give my registration details to the employer, who would then be able to check that I was free and able to work.

From November 2010, all new employees and volunteers who regularly come into contact with children or vulnerable people must be ISA-registered before starting work. It will become a legal requirement for employers and voluntary organisations to check the ISA status of new and current employees. As I explained earlier, it is not over-bureaucratic; it should be a swift and straightforward process.

By July 2015, all employees and volunteers who work regularly with vulnerable people, including current employees, must be ISA-registered. It may seem a long time, but it is important that we get it right and that we do things proportionately. I recognise, however, that the checks and normal precautions that employers and voluntary groups should be taking have indeed been taking place.

Many points have been raised this morning, so I may skip through certain matters that I think less important; I shall make a judgment on that. The hon. Member for Yeovil asked about Sir Roger Singleton's check. The scheme has received much publicity over the summer. I remember being on maternity leave and sometimes wanting to throw things at the radio when hearing the myths that abounded about who might be included. I was therefore delighted that my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families agreed to ask Sir Roger to check whether what was being done was proportionate. I am glad that we are having this debate today, as it will lay to rest some of those myths.

As a result of public concern, Sir Roger was asked to check whether the scheme had drawn the line in the right place for definitions of frequency and intensity of contact with children and vulnerable adults. His recommendations have been accepted; I believe that they improve the overall balance. They remove some 2 million people from the need for registration and ensure that the definitions of frequent and intensive activities are clear and understood.

It is essential to ensure that children and vulnerable adults are properly safeguarded and that we do all that we reasonably can to protect them from those who seek to do them harm. However, to be effective, the system must be balanced and proportionate. It is no good making it so tight and difficult that is hard for people to understand. I am grateful to Sir Roger for the clear way in which he communicated his thoughts on how things should be done, and as I said, the Government have accepted them in full.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

Will someone who goes into a school on a voluntary basis to talk to the same class each week for between six and eight weeks, but always in the presence of the teacher, have to go through the procedure?

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Identity)

I shall touch on a number of the points raised by the hon. Gentleman. It will depend on frequency, but I shall not pick up on one point. It would depend also on what the school felt was appropriate if that person had regular contact outside school. For example, schools in small towns may have more contact with that individual than with someone who comes from another geographical area. In essence, as the hon. Gentleman outlined, frequency may be defined as three times a month. However, recommendations 3 and 4 essentially need to work together. It will be a matter of judgment for the school on how it should work and what the timings should be. It is therefore difficult to comment on an example thrown at me in the Chamber.

The hon. Gentleman usefully laid out the flaws of the previous system and reminded us all of the need for change. I shall now pick up on some general points, but I may come back to the point that he raised a moment ago.

The question was asked whether police officers should register under the scheme. I and ministerial colleagues from the Departments of Health and for Children, Schools and Families have been alert to the need to ensure that the scheme is proportionate. The cost of police going through their own check, which is essentially the same, seemed over-bureaucratic. It has therefore been decided that police officers, for whom rigorous vetting arrangements are already in place, and who are uniquely placed to access all the relevant criminality and intelligence information on the police national computer, do not need to be ISA-registered. Some officers have regular contact with children, but that is a slightly different issue.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Shadow Minister (Children, Young People and Families)

I return to the intervention by Mr. Laws. If the Minister finds it difficult to give an answer to his question, surely school governors in our constituencies will find it difficult to assess whether or not an individual needs to be police checked and will therefore err on the side of caution. The lack of clarity-and perhaps the Minister's inability to answer that question-shows the scale of the problem.

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Identity)

I shall take the rare step of being candid. I have been up three times in the night with a young baby and I have a cold. I was worried that I might have misheard what the hon. Gentleman said and did not want to commit myself, in Hansard, to something that I may have had to correct. However, I shall address the point that he raised in more general terms. Forgive me, Mr. Olner, for being personal, but that is the reality.

We believe that removing the police is a proportionate decision that will reduce bureaucracy. Voluntary sector support is high. Bodies such as the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and Volunteering England support the inclusion of volunteers in the scheme. It is right. I have volunteered for groups in which my children have been involved. I am a mother of three. For example, I would sometimes turn up at a Cub Scouts camp. In those days, I needed a CRB check as there were other children. I recently turned up to make paper flowers with the Brownies, but I did not need a CRB check because, at all times, Brown Owl was present. We have to recognise that the balance is right for volunteers.

As a number of hon. Members stressed, we also need to communicate clearly to those who are asked to undergo CRB checks or ISA registration which people need to be checked. It is important to get right the frequent contact test that was raised by Sir Roger Singleton. The hon. Member for Yeovil asked whether the test takes into account the nature of the contact. I hope that my story about the Brownies and the paper flowers has reassured him on that. Of more concern is the overnight stay on residential trips with children. I welcome the opportunity to make clear that difference.

The CRB check gives information about a person, but it is left to the employer's discretion to decide whether it is relevant to the person having contact with a child. For example, someone who is not barred may have additional information on their CRB check, and it would be up to the employer to judge whether it was relevant to the job. If someone was to apply to be a minibus driver for a youth club, the fact that they had a criminal record may not be an issue, but if they had a record around children it may be. If they were to apply for a job in which they were handling money, a criminal record on a financial matter might be an issue. If they were providing children with counselling and the financial issue was a concern, the employer might use that as a reason not to employ them. That is the normal process for a CRB check. I am slightly digressing here. As I am anxious about time, I will have to rattle on a bit.

As for children's authors, the Government accepts Sir Roger's analysis that in cases in which someone is working frequently with children but only in different schools and returns to the same school only infrequently, if at all, there is no opportunity to develop and abuse trust. If I understood the hon. Member for Yeovil correctly, he was talking about someone having fairly regular contact with the same group of children, in which case there would be a requirement for registration. The key issue is about the ability to develop a relationship. Schools can still choose to ask anyone for an up-to-date CRB check even if they are not barred from working with children. There may be information in the CRB check that is not relevant to the ISA. The impact assessment that was mentioned is being produced, but I cannot give a definite time scale on its production at the moment.

Let me pick up on some of the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North, because he initiated the debate. He and other hon. Members touched on the issue of cost. The cost of the first registration is £64. It is worth stressing that the cost was never £20. I am not clear where that figure comes from. In the consultation carried out by Government, only 5 per cent. of respondents considered that £20 was an appropriate cost. The cost for the ISA part of the check is £28. At the same time, the scheme requires an enhanced CRB disclosure, which costs £36. Therefore, in total, the cost is £64, but the ISA registration is only £28, which is a reasonable amount. Good and responsible employers may well choose to take on such a scheme, and it would be right for them to consider it and, arguably, it would make them competitive in attracting employees.

We must recognise from where the funding comes. If we provide the checks for free, the money will come from tax funds. If we charge a fee, the scheme will be paid for from that. Therefore, we have two payment options because the money has to come from somewhere. It is not for the Home Office to direct employers what to do, but other Departments-the Departments of Health and for Children, Schools and Families-may choose to have discussions with some of those who require people to have checks.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North

I am listening to my hon. Friend with interest, but I am sure that it requires only a simple adjustment to the legislation to make it statutory for employers to pay the costs.

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Identity)

There is no time for legislation on such a basis even if it were in the Government's mind. However, I hope that most employers will take up the scheme. Once employees register, the scheme is portable. There is a one-off registration. The scheme is similar to the security checks at airports in which employees can be required to contribute.

I do not have the time to go into the issues around CRB performance, but let me reassure hon. Members that it is not as bad as it has been painted. We are regularly on target to achieve a turnaround within 28 days. For the ISA registration, there will be a seven-working-day turnaround to get the information back, and only if there is the trigger of information being sent to the ISA will the ISA have to go through its process, so that is much faster. I have already mentioned that volunteers do not have to pay anything at all, which addresses some points of concern.

The concern about duplication of regulatory provisions is important, and I have had constructive discussions with Unison and other TUC members, and their arguments convinced me to consider the matter again. The work is ongoing, so I cannot reveal anything to hon. Members now, but I am grateful to the trade unions and professional bodies for their constructive and detailed input to the discussions. Intense work is still going on behind the scenes.

I want to stress that the roles for regulators are different from those of the ISA, which must ensure that unsuitable persons are barred from work with children or vulnerable adults. It considers risk and not professional competence, which is the role of the regulators. It is important that we recognise the difference. Nevertheless, the ISA works with Unison and keepers of registers to develop clear and consistent guidelines on what information should be referred to the ISA and when. The ISA chief executive has held discussions with some bodies, including the General Social Care Council, the General Medical Council and Unison, and will be meeting Unison again later this month to take matters further forward. An operational workshop involving a number of stakeholders will take place later this month to work through the practical issues involved in the referral process. That came about as a result of a meeting that I had with trade unionists and keepers of registers last autumn.

The point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North in respect of harm is a sound one and goes to the heart of what we are discussing with stakeholders. The ISA has no interest in creating an unnecessary and unwieldy bureaucracy that might hinder rather than improve safeguarding. The suggestion that any person who is on a professional register would have their case heard and concluded by the professional regulator prior to referral to the ISA is, in all likelihood, how the process will work. We must ensure that we are aware of any potential loophole or flaw in the process, that we have a proper notification and that we know exactly where responsibility lies at each stage of the process. As the Minister responsible, I am anxious that we do not have a system that sets up a chain of events and that, when different bits of the chain slip, we do not end up with a tragedy for which no one takes responsibility. We must have clear lines of responsibility at every point.

As for conflicting decisions between regulators and the ISA, different conclusions might be reached, but that may be for the reasons that I outlined at the beginning. The ISA might not bar someone who has been dismissed for professional misconduct because they might not be a risk to children or vulnerable adults, but it might bar someone not because they have been dismissed from the professional body but because it holds other relevant information, and it must take all that information in the round. Therefore, we will sometimes see different decisions, but we must be clear about why. I am very positive about our work with the trade unions and the registers of information on the matter.

On appeals, individuals can appeal to a tribunal only on points of law or fact. It was recognised that the expertise of the ISA board and its professional judgment should not be overturned by a court that does not have the same expert knowledge. The option of continuing to a judicial review of decisions remains and discussions are ongoing with those involved in representing employees about how the scheme will work, and I am still open to discussion. We have to start as we mean to go on, and we start with what we have already outlined and laid out in law. If the scheme does not work, I pledge to review it after the fact and to continue to have discussions about how we ensure that it works properly. Let me reassure all concerned that the factual information provided will be properly considered.

I have very little time left, but I want to stress that I went to Darlington and met the caseworkers, and I will write to the hon. Member for Basingstoke about the training aspects. I had a very positive experience meeting them and I was impressed with how seriously they take their jobs and their decisions, knowing the impact that they have on people's lives.

Let me clarify that the ISA scheme does not apply to private and family arrangements or infrequent arrangements. However, when carers-those of us who are parents or caring for anyone who is an adult-hand someone over to others who are not in their direct control, they need the reassurance that they are safe. That is what this scheme is intended to do and what I believe, with the adjustments that we are making, it will do.

Let me reassure the hon. Lady that we are making good progress on the police national database. Moreover, I have to say that we have not been inept on the communications front. We have done a lot to communicate with different bodies, but sometimes, alas-as a journalist myself I find this distressing-newspapers do not always check their facts properly and headlines can alarm people. We will continue to provide information. The helpline has dealt with many queries and e-mailed responses. A lot of work has been done by the ISA to help to guide people through the process. Youngsters of 16, 17 and 18 do not need to be vetted. As for the issues around overseas visitors, I will write to the hon. Lady about them and send a copy to other hon. Members.

In summary, the scheme is important and I welcome the debate on it. It is a shame that we have not had more time to discuss it.