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The whole House will agree with my hon. Friend, who has a distinguished record in this area. Since January, the House has handled the issue in an exemplary way and has not suggested that children
in this country are in jeopardy to an extent that is not reflected in reports, and least of all in todays report. I also think that it would be strange and unusual if the media were not to take a deep interest in the matter. We are discussing the safety of children when they are at their most vulnerable, which is why, as my hon. Friend has said, we must maintain a balance, but I have no complaints about the press and the media maintaining a careful focus on the issue.
Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): Has the Secretary of State discussed the proposals with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to ensure that they are implemented in that part of the United Kingdom, too? That is especially important because recently it has been revealed that many schools do not record teachers criminal records. Indeed, it is sometimes only when a teacher moves from one school to another that a CRB check is carried out. Will the Secretary of State say whether teaching unions have expressed opposition to schools keeping records of teachers criminal records?
Alan Johnson: The provision applies to Northern Ireland and I will discuss it with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. We are meeting teachers and all other interested partiesI shall avoid the dreadful term stakeholderstomorrow to go through all those ideas, but the initial reaction, which I have seen, to the Ofsted report was measured. Everyone in education understands the importance of checking. Schools will not be checking criminal recordsthey will be checking with the CRB whether checks have been carried out and recording the fact that that has happened. Everyone in education is clear that that is the right way forwardthey might have some concerns about the detail, but the principle is widely shared.
Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North) (Lab): I echo the plea for balance made by my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) and welcome the Secretary of States statement. In view of what I have said about apparent loopholes in legislation, can he assure the House that the issue of a local authority member who is on the sex offenders register is being considered and will be incorporated into the guidance that is about to be issued?
Alan Johnson: I believe that the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill will tackle that, but I will take my hon. Friends point into account and consider what interim measures we need. Many of these measures, such as the Singleton body, pre-empt what will be in the Bill.
Annette Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD): Given that Ofsted inspections are not necessarily that frequentindeed, it is good if they are notdoes the Secretary of State think that it would make sense for the local authority to have a duty to make checks across all the schools within its boundaries more regularly?
The hon. Lady makes an excellent point that I have been considering myself. My initial view was that local safeguarding children boards should oversee this, but perhaps local authorities
should be involved as well. We certainly cannot wait until the next Ofsted inspection to ensure that the records are in place. I am still thinking through who would be best to oversee this.
Helen Jones (Warrington, North) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friends statement, which strikes the right balance between doing what needs to be done and avoiding unnecessary panic. May I ask him particularly about safer recruitment training? Should undertaking that training be a requirement of appointment for a head teacher, or at least for the chair of the governing body? Since the prime responsibility of a school is to ensure that its children are safe, should not we make it a condition of appointment that all heads undertake such training?
Alan Johnson: My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. That was not Ofsteds recommendationit asked me to be more assertive. I suppose that I could be more assertive by introducing regulation; I will consider that. My own view is that we should regulate only where it is absolutely necessary
Alan Johnson: Perhaps I will reflect on that. I think that, if we explain this properly to teachers, through their unions and through the debate that we will have tomorrow, my being assertive will be enough, but if not, we might have to consider regulations.
Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): How many countries have long-standing and accurate registers of the kind that we would accept? Does the Secretary of State see problems as regards teachers who came to this country from overseas some years ago without the benefit of any such register or check? What is his advice to schools that employ such people?
Alan Johnson: The right hon. Gentleman raises an important and difficult issue. Twenty-one countries are part of the Criminal Records Bureau wider international checkthe overseas information service. Fortunately, among those 21 are seven of the eight countries that give us the most teachers, including South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. Curiously, America is not one of them. That allows for a checking mechanism. The certificate of good conduct is a method that has been used, but Ofsted has found a couple of cases involving local authorities where those records were not as stringent as they should have been. We need to work harder in these areas. Ofsted said that everyone to whom it spoke errs on the side of caution. That is absolutely right. There need to be identity checks on overseas staff, whichever country they come from, to be absolutely sure that they are who they say they are and that their qualifications are accurate. They will now have to undergo the CRB check. In several countries, records are not good. We need to work more closely with the Home Office and the Foreign Office, and with our international partners in the European Union and elsewhere, to ensure that we get this right. It is a reciprocal process, because British and UK people go abroad to teach, and everyone needs to be assured that there are proper checks.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Having had some experience of a distressing case in my constituency, I congratulate the Secretary of State on his announcement, which might have prevented the case from occurring. He said that head teachers had a heavy work load, which is a fortiori the case in small schools. Will he reassure the House that the arrangements will be effective but not administratively burdensome? Could the local education authority play a role in providing the necessary secure intranet access? As the hon. Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather) said, small schools often have arrangements with individuals locally. What is the minimum amount of time between the use of occasional cover staff that would be necessary to trigger a further check?
Alan Johnson: My hon. Friend is right that teachers have a heavy work load. Nevertheless, I am sure that they will be convinced of the need to implement the proposals. We will provide help, not only through the local education authority, but from the Department and the local safeguarding children boards. Assistance will be available. Together, we can ensure that we act quickly.
Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con): I welcome the moderate and measured tone in which the statement has been made and my question is in the same spirit. The Secretary of State mentioned one of the criticisms of the Department. Will he identify the other four or five and say what he is inclined to about them?
Alan Johnson: Yes. Four recommendations are that we should: provide clear guidance; make a clear and specific statement about checks on school governors, which I mentioned; provide clearer guidance on schools responsibilities when employing staff from abroad or through supply agencies, which I covered in the statement; and provide guidance on suitable employment practices for those who are not checked or are awaiting checksthat refers to sight and sound. If a school is waiting for a CRB check on a teacher, other member of staff, or a volunteer who is helping children to read, the rules are clear: that person must stay within sight and sound of another teacher and not be left alone. The fifth recommendation is to speed up the handling of cases of misconduct that are reported to us and the sixth is the one that I mentioned about my being assertive.
Ms Angela C. Smith (Sheffield, Hillsborough) (Lab): I thank my right hon. Friend for the prompt and sensible response to todays Ofsted report, but will he reassure hon. Members that pupil referral units and home hospital education servicesindeed, any organisation involved in educating and training our young peoplewill also have to keep those records?
Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD):
Will the Secretary of State clarify his statement about requiring schools to check with supply agencies that the CRB check has been done? I ask because there is a case in my constituency of a vulnerable adult for whom an agency supplied a
carer. The CRB check was given over the phone and it subsequently transpired that the worker had a heroin record. When the responsible adult phoned, the records had disappeared. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that, when supply teachers go into schools, they bring with them a copy of their CRB check so that the school can have physical proof before a teacher starts work?
Alan Johnson: Yes, I can confirm that. The hon. Member for Havant also referred to agency staff. The Ofsted report states that the six agencies that it visited all checked with the CRB. It made the point that there was some confusion in schools, for the reasons that the hon. Member for Rochdale (Paul Rowen) mentioned. Schools thought that someone else, perhaps the local authority, was checking, and there is no stringent requirements on them to do that, although we believe that the 1973 Department of Trade and Industry regulations, updated in 2003, make it clear that all agencies must undertake a criminal record check. The words that schools must take
all other reasonably practicable steps to confirm that the work-seeker is not unsuitable for the position concerned
must refer to checking with the CRB. For the absence of any doubt, we will put that in Education Act regulations so that the schools must seek proof to complete the register, on the compiling of which Ofsted has insisted.
Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth) (Lab):
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement today. Will he seriously consider the difficulties that we might get into
with supply teachers and peripatetic teachers? Local colleges use many part-time workers. Will he revisit the role that the local education authority can play in this scenario? Many supply teachers work in schools within one local authority area and rarely stray across the border, so the authority could be the one central key player in this regard.
Alan Johnson: My hon. Friend is right, although many local authorities have their own supply agencies. He also mentioned colleges. I referred in my statement to working with the Association of Colleges to find a system that we can be sure will replicate in colleges the action that we are taking in schools. In schools, it is clearly the responsibility of the school; in colleges, the situation is more complex, which is why I want to tackle the issue with the Association of Colleges.
Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): While we may draw some comfort from the number of countries with whom we have effective reciprocal arrangements, does the Secretary of State accept that clause 7 of the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill provides that it is an offence for someone who is barred to seek, secure or apply for an engagement working with children? Would it not be appropriate to extend that prohibition to anyone from overseas who has committed a criminal offence that would have secured their barring in this country?
Alan Johnson: The hon. Gentleman has raised an interesting point, but that matter is probably best left to the Bills Standing Committee. There are complications involved in his suggestion, but it is something that we can discuss as the Bill goes through the House.
Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday at Home Office questions, I asked the Home Secretary whether he had read a report by the head of finance of the Association of Chief Police Officers, which warns that police force amalgamations will contribute to a funding gap equivalent to the loss of 25,000 police officers. The Home Secretary replied that he had not read the report, but that he had
discussed it in detail with the authors.[ Official Report, 19 June 2006; Vol. 447, c. 1061.]
He also said that the example that I had given was the worst and most extreme option. The author of the report is Dr. Tim Brain, the chief constable of Gloucestershire, who yesterday confirmed that at no time has the Home Secretary discussed the report with him. Indeed, he has not met the Home Secretary. He also confirmed that the figure of 25,000 police officer losses cannot be regarded as worst case.
The Home Secretary has already had to apologise to you, Mr. Speaker, and to the House for providing misleading information relating to foreign national prisoners. He has also made the extraordinary concession to the Leader of the House that Home Office answers are not always factual. I appreciate that the Home Secretarys serial incompetence is not a matter for you, Mr. Speaker, but is it not a serious matter when he, even inadvertently, misrepresents a report that is of the greatest concern to all hon. Members and our constituents? Will you offer him an opportunity to come to the House to correct his mistake?
Mr. Speaker: I think that the hon. Gentleman is trying to put the matter on the record. That is one thing, but he will understand that the Chair cannot be drawn into these arguments. There are occasions on which a Minister is due to come back and rectify a matter, but the hon. Gentleman has not only pointed out a mistake that the Minister has made; he has made an attack during a point of order. The best thing that I can do is not to be drawn into the matter at all.
[Relevant documents: The Fourth Report from the Constitutional Affairs Committee, Session 2004-05, HC 116, on Family Justice: The Operation of the Family Courts; the Governments response thereto, Cm 6507; and the Sixth Report from the Committee, Session 2005-06, HC 1086.]
(b) for the court to permit the applicants to take the child who is the subject of the application out of the UK for such period or periods and subject to such conditions as the court thinks fit.'. [Annette Brooke.]
Annette Brooke: We are back here discussing these matters after a three-month gap. That is a long time and I am not sure why we had such a long break from our deliberations on the Bill. We discussed new clause 3 briefly in Committee in a clause stand part debate. The new clause was not actually tabled, and I wanted to revisit it to ensure that all the issues were covered.
In Committee, we learned that only about 300 international adoptions a year involved the United Kingdom. The new clause refers to something even more unusual: foreign adoptions of United Kingdom children. It is supported by both the British Association for Adoption and Fostering and the Intercountry Adoption Centre. In Committee, I said that I firmly believed that the childs interests should be paramount. In her response, the Minister said
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