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In section 42(1), the definition of disqualification order
Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (c. 15)
Schedule 14, paragraph 2.
'In Schedule 7, paragraphs 155, 157 and 158
Education Act 2002 (c. 32)
Sections 142 to 144
In Schedule 21, paragraphs 75, 76(b), 86(2), 121, 122(a), 123 and 128
Adoption and Children Act 2002 (c. 38)
In Schedule 3, paragraph 94
Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Act 2003 (c. 43)
Section 189(1) to (3)
In Schedule 9, paragraph 14
Criminal Justice Act 2003 (c. 44)
Children Act 2004 (c. 31)
In Schedule 1, paragraph 11
In Schedule 2, paragraphs 6 and 7
Civil Partnership Act 2004 (c. 33)
In Schedule 21, paragraph 49A
Constitutional Reform Act 2005 (c. 4)
In Schedule 11, paragraph 35
Inquiries Act 2005 (c. 12)
In Schedule 2, paragraphs 18 and 19
Childcare Act 2006 (c. 21)
In section 75(3), paragraphs (a) and (b).
Throughout our debates Members on all sides of the House, and in the other place, have given tremendous recognition to the importance of the measures in the Bill. Ensuring that children and vulnerable adults are safeguarded from harm is at the heart of the responsibilities of both Government and Parliament. It is a responsibility shared with employers, parents, families, and the work forces that support children and vulnerable adults. I am therefore gratefuland I know that I speak for the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda)for the fact that our debates at all stages of the Bills passage have been constructive and valuable, and above all have demonstrated the commitment on both sides of the House to better safeguarding for children and vulnerable adults. That has been reflected in the significant degree of consensus in both Houses. The Bill has rightly received the close scrutiny that it deserves and has greatly benefited from constructive probing by all who have participated.
I thank you and your colleagues, Madam Deputy Speaker. I thank our Chairmen in Committee, the hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Derek Conway) and my hon. Friend the. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew), for their generous but firm management of our deliberations. I thank the hon. Members for Basingstoke (Mrs. Miller) and for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke), who ably led from the Opposition Benches and the hon. Members for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) and for Brent, East (Sarah Teather). I thank the Minister responsible for children and families, my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester, who, as I am sure Members will agree, has done a sterling job on his
first Billnot the easiest to be asked to steer through. I thank the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North (Joan Ryan), and all my hon. Friends who have taken an active part in the debate. I also thank the Clerks and our officials, who have supported us through every stage of this difficult process.
The Government are committed to ensuring that safeguarding vulnerable groups remains a top priority. Staying safe is one of the five outcomes in the cross-Government Every Child Matters programme, and seeks to ensure that safeguarding becomes everyones business across the range of childrens services. The Bill is part of that programme. It will also greatly improve the safeguarding of adults in the most vulnerable circumstances. The dignity in care campaign that I shall launch shortly will aim to create a care system in which there is zero tolerance of abuse and disrespect of older people, but the Bill extends much more widely than that, covering a full spectrum of services in which abuse may occur.
Let me further remind Members of the significance of the Bill. It fully implements recommendation 19 of the Bichard report. I am sure that every Member will recall the tragic circumstances, the murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in Soham, that led to that inquiry and shocked the nation. In response to the inquiry, we have established a wide-ranging and ambitious programme of work to address the systemic failures that it identified. The House has been updated regularly on progress. The Bill puts in place a major element of the response and delivers on important commitments given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Ruth Kelly) in January, when she was Secretary of State for Education and Skills.
As I am sure Members will agree, discharging these important commitments has not always been an easy task. It covers a difficult and complex area, and we have been asked to reconcile very different imperatives. We are determined to have the most robust system of vetting and barring possible; at the same time, it must be simple and practical for employers to implement, or it will get in the way of recruitment. It also needs to be fair, with robust procedures. As the hon. Member for Basingstoke said, our extended debates about such issues as frequency have helped to ensure that the scheme is effectively constituted.
I am genuinely grateful for the constructive approach throughout the House to resolving the challenges. I believe that the Bill now provides for a tough, well-balanced and effective vetting and barring scheme, and I commend it to the House.
Mrs. Maria Miller:
Conservative Members agree with the intention behind the Bill, and welcome the debate that we have had since its introduction in the other place in February. I commend the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills, the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda), and his colleagues for the way in which they have listened to the arguments, and for their willingness to amend the Bill and thuswe hopeimprove it, although I am sure that Members in all parts of the House wish they had listened a little earlier to some of the points raised. We
could then have avoided the deluge of 25 new clauses, four new schedules and 250 Government amendments that was presented only a short time before todays debate.
The Bill has been expected and consulted on for more than two years, and has been debated since February. It is therefore difficult to understand why so many Government amendments were tabled at the eleventh hour. Many provide the basic details of how the vetting and barring scheme will work. We have been asking for those details for the past six months, and they should have been thought through before, rather than after, the Bill was presented to us. With that in mind, I thank the teams from the Department for Education and Skills and the Public Bill Office, who have worked tirelessly and often under great pressure as a result of the Governments late tabling of amendments. They have, as always, been an integral and invaluable part of the process.
Some four years after the tragedy that led to the Bichard inquiry, there are still too many examples of existing vetting procedures being implemented haphazardly. That was highlighted only in June, in Ofsteds report on recruitment practices in schools.
We were presented with a somewhat hollow Bill in February, despite the two years that had elapsed since the Bichard report. There was a lack of definition, a lack of detail on the processes to be followed and a disregard for many of the findings in the consultations that had been heldspecifically the DFESs own post-Bichard consultation, which called for much of the clarity in terms and definitions for which we, and other Members, have continued to press today. Even after more than six months, there are still no definitions of some of the key terms in the Bill.
My colleagues and I are pleased that the debate has led to some changes. Much of the spadework in the other place was done by my noble Friend Lady Buscombe, both in debate and in behind-the-scenes meetings, on the issue of read-across between the vulnerable adults and the childrens barred lists. It was widely felt to be a fundamental flaw in the Bill as initially presented.
I commend the work done on Second Reading and in Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton). As always, he brought his wit and depth of knowledge to debates in Committee and on Report. I want to thank my hon. Friends the Members for St. Albans (Anne Main), for Reading, East (Mr. Wilson) and for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Evennett) for their continued support and their contributions to our debate. We must not forget our two Committee Chairmenmy hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Derek Conway) and the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew)who oversaw that particular stage and, despite some trying times, kept our debate in reasonably good humour.
Considerable improvements have been made in respect of read-across, how some detailed processes will work and clearer definitions. Many of the amendments will prove fundamental to the operation of the legislation and we should thank the Government for them. I realise that the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills, the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda),
has been in a difficult position because he inherited the Bill from the Minister for Children and Families. He was not in the driving seator, indeed, even in the Departmentwhen the Bill was first introduced. Perhaps he would agree that the handling of the Bill has not been an example of great parliamentary process and that a review might be in order.
Conservative Members remain concerned about clauses dealing with the position of those who are barred if they inadvertently apply for monitored jobs, and we have debated the issue extensively. We are also concerned, as we stated clearly in Committee, about the Governments intention to expand the number of people monitored under the Bill in future. As we know, the Government have the ability to achieve that without much further debate in the House. We shall certainly monitor that matter closely. When the Bill was introduced, the right hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Beverley Hughes) firmly stated that one of the principles behind the Bill was that the breadth of the bar imposed should be proportionate to the risk. I hope that Ministers continue to adhere to that and that they are open to revisiting the provisions if they appear to have created unintended consequences, perhaps along the lines that we have discussed today.
The amount of reworking of the Bill at such a late stage is also worrying because a number of areas require further attention. We have already mentioned the use of vague terms and we have had little time properly to debate critical issues such as the development of the IMPACT police national database. It is now delayed until 2010, yet it was one of Bichards key criticisms of the progress that the Government have made so far. Overseas workers is another matterwe debated it earlierthat was virtually ignored in the later stages of our debate on the Government amendments.
We wish the Bill well as it passes from here to wherever it goes next, but there remains a need for a fundamental change to the process of vetting and monitoring. We all agree that it needs to take place, but we urge the Government closely to watch the impact of the Bill in practice. We support the intention to make the vetting system better, but we do not want the Bill to become an unwieldy instrument that, instead of simplifying the position, adds even more complexity. In short, we simply hope that the Bill does not become a sledgehammer to crack a nut. We hope that the Government will monitor the impact in as much detail as possible as the Bill is implemented.
Annette Brooke: I thank all the Ministers who were involved with the Bill. They have been extremely courteous throughout and although we may not have received all the explanations as they were intendedwe may not have been satisfied at the timeI believe that every attempt was made to respond on the various points of debate. I would like to thank the Bill team. This is the first time that I have had to telephone someone on the team to get help with understanding some Government amendments. It is not surprising that we needed clarification, but it was good to see the explanations come in at 9.37 pm last Wednesday. That contact was very helpful, as was the meeting with the Minister.
I reiterate my thanks to the Public Bill Office team, who have been extremely helpful, to the Committee Chairmen and, of course, to my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather) for supporting me and joining in whenever matters needed clarifying. She has made a great contribution. I also wish to thank Baroness Walmsley, because enormously valuable work was done in the other place and the Bill was much improved by the time that it reached us.
It was surprising how many amendments were accepted. I commented in my speech on Second Reading that I was not hopeful that amendments would be accepted, and in fact the pendulum may have swung too far in the other direction with the many amendments we have seen in the past few days. However, I appreciate Ministers responsiveness on many matters, in particular those about which we expressed the greatest concern.
The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills, the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda), said that the legislation is complex, but that might prove to be an understatement. It is very complex and that has to be a concern for us all. From the start, we have all seen the Bill as being of great importance and significance. We will all always remember the events at Soham and the revelation that some information could have been passed on. In fact, there was lots of information around, but it had not gone through the various channels or been put together so as to lead to someone taking action. We have many examples of similar situations in world history and that was another example of failure of communication. Given the system that was in place, it was impossible for anybody to put together all the pieces of information available.
It seems a long time since the Bichard report in 2004 and there has been much consultation on the Bill. Have we achieved what we set out to do? That is a difficult question to answer and I have to admit to some
nagging doubts. Because we have had so many Government amendments, I am not convinced that we have been able to scrutinise them properly in the short time available. There may well be unintended consequences that we have not envisaged tonight. That is a serious issue and I hope that Ministers will reflect on that and carry out some of the monitoring that the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs. Miller) suggested.
The Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Bury, South (Mr. Lewis) rightly said that safeguarding vulnerable groups is everybodys responsibility. I could not agree more. We have to work on changing our culture so that we put children and vulnerable adults first. We must implement the available safeguards and do any extra checking necessary. To protect others, we must be on our guard.
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