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Lord Laming: I fully understand the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Meston, who has great experience in this field. I support what the Minister has said in that this amendment would take this Bill into a whole new area of family proceedings which I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Meston, would agree is a complicated area, at least for a layman such as myself. I emphasise that this Bill is a Private Member's Bill which can address only the narrow but important field of employment. I hope that there will be opportunities elsewhere for the

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noble Lord, Lord Meston, to pursue his legitimate concerns. I hope that the Committee will not feel that this is the place to pursue them.

Lord Meston: I am grateful for that predictable response from both noble Lords. I am sorry that this situation is outside the scope of the Bill, which I believe is unfortunately and indeed unnecessarily confined in respect of the points which I have sought to raise. At Second Reading I gave the example of individuals who deliberately insinuate themselves into families, particularly single-parent families, where they know there is a child or children. If proceedings result, in whatever context, the welfare officer or the social services department will reasonably want to know all there is to know about that individual before approving him--usually it is "him" but sometimes it is "her"--as someone suitable to be involved in the upbringing of the child concerned.

It seems an anomaly that a welfare officer can check a criminal record to establish whether an individual has a conviction or caution recorded against him but cannot check his other record--we all know that it exists and its details will, no doubt, be greatly improved when the Bill comes into force--which shows that the person has been sacked for gross sexual impropriety. It is an omission which will, in years to come, be seen as a deliberate omission.

I understand the constraints of time and the limitations of the Bill and I shall not press the amendment. However, I suggest that it is a matter that needs urgent consideration. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clauses 8 and 9 agreed to.

1 p.m.

Clause 10 [Power to extend protection of Act]:

On Question, whether Clause 10 shall stand part of the Bill?

Earl Howe: Perhaps I should make clear straightaway that I have no intention of trying to remove the clause from the Bill or of suggesting that that might be desirable. I seek merely to probe the noble Lord and the Minister as to the intentions behind it.

It is quite clear that the position of adults suffering from mental impairment has a close parallel with that of children in terms of their vulnerability, particularly their vulnerability to all forms of abuse. How does the clause fit in with the Government's wider intentions to introduce legislation to protect vulnerable people in society, both young and old? When might we expect to see the Government bringing forward regulations in pursuit of Clause 10? Can the Minister say what practical issues, over and above those raised by the main body of the Bill, need to be addressed before such regulations can be implemented?

The problem with the clause--if I can call it a "problem"--is that it does not go quite far enough. It seems to me that in focusing on adults with what is

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called a "mental impairment", it draws an arbitrary dividing line between one group of vulnerable adults and another; for example, it excludes adults suffering from dementia or a degenerative illness such as Alzheimer's disease. The disability suffered by the latter group in terms of loss of social functions and capacity of expression is, for all practical purposes, exactly the same as that suffered by the former.

If the starting point for the clause is to extend the scope of the Bill to those adults to whom society owes a duty of care similar to the duty it owes to children, then I do not understand why the clause does not go further. If it is the case that the Government are currently addressing the needs of vulnerable individuals across the board, young and old, are we likely to see Clause 10 being implemented in isolation from any measures that may be brought forward in that wider context?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: I understand that the noble Earl has chosen this device not only to probe the Government's intentions in respect of using the power in Clause 10 to extend the protection in the Bill to mentally impaired adults, but also to establish our intentions on a number of other matters, particularly with regard to the way in which protection may be strengthened for other categories of vulnerable adults. I shall try my best to respond, although I fear that I may not be able to give as great a clarification as the noble Earl may seek.

On the point about when the power in the clause might be exercised, the position is as follows. As the noble Earl will realise, a great deal of work needs to be undertaken before the main provisions of the Bill can come into force. Subordinate regulations, some of which we have discussed already, and regulations relating to the tribunal and to the education Acts, will be of some complexity. Setting up the tribunal will be a substantial task. Although no final decisions have been taken on the matter, at the moment we consider that it would be unwise to seek to use the powers in this clause until such time as the main architecture of the scheme is in place and operating satisfactorily.

On the point about why the Bill should not contain a power similar to that contained in Clause 10 in relation to mentally impaired adults, the short answer is that they are very different issues. The point has already been made that it would be too much to expect that a Private Member's Bill would be an appropriate vehicle to extend the protection that it affords to children to all other vulnerable members of the community.

We have to be clear that the Bill is targeted on improving our child protection system. It would not be practical to expect that that system could satisfactorily encompass the needs of quite distinct groups beyond those already set out in the Bill. The position of mentally impaired adults is most similar to that of children.

Clearly it will be a considerable challenge to resolve the many and varied problems concerning vulnerable adults. We have to examine different groups individually and to produce the right solutions according

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to the circumstances. I am given to understand that the interdepartmental working group is studying these matters at present. I hope that the noble Earl agrees that the best course of action is to await the group's recommendations. I assure him that his comments will be fed into its deliberations.

I accept that my response may have been less precise than the noble Earl wished, but I assure the Committee that the Government have no intention of dragging their feet. Returning to the point I made earlier in relation to the operation of the Bill if enacted, it is very important to ensure that we get the main scheme in place and operating satisfactorily.

Earl Howe: I am grateful to the Minister. I was not suggesting that the scope of the Bill should be extended to all vulnerable individuals, but merely that the dividing line created by Clause 10 in terms of who is and who is not included in the clause is somewhat artificial. I was pleasantly surprised to see Clause 10 in the Bill at all. Given that it is there, I wished to ask whether perhaps it is too narrowly drawn. However, I am grateful to the Minister for the pointers he has been able to give, such as they are. I understand entirely that, inevitably, there is still much work to do and much uncertainty ahead.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: Clearly the points made about clarification of the definition are matters which will need to be taken on board as we move forward, both in terms of the implementation of the Bill and in terms of the work of the interdepartmental group.

Earl Howe: Again, I am grateful to the Minister. I had assumed on reading Clause 10 that the phrase "mental impairment" would not necessarily prohibit the inclusion of those suffering from dementia or a degenerative illness. They would normally not be included in the definition of "mental impairment". Nevertheless, I am grateful for what the Minister said. I look forward with interest to the way in which the provisions are implemented and lay open the way for Clause 10 to come into full operation.

Clause 10 agreed to.

Lord Meston moved Amendment No. 12:


After Clause 10, insert the following new clause--

PERSON SEARCHING LIST TO BE INFORMED OF COMPARABLE LISTS

(" . The Secretary of State shall by regulation make provision for a person searching the list kept under section 1 above or the list kept for the purpose of regulations made under section 218(6) of the 1988 Act, or applying under subsection (3A) of section 113 of the Police Act 1997, to be informed if an individual is included on any comparable list held elsewhere in the British Islands.")

The noble Lord said: This is a geographical amendment. As drafted, the Bill applies to England and Wales. At Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Laming, told us that a parallel system may well be brought into force in Scotland. The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that the system in Scotland and indeed any other systems which exist or may come to

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exist elsewhere are joined up. In that way, employers who seek information will truly be provided with a single point of reference.

We have reminded ourselves several times today that child abusers exploit the gaps in any system. They move around. It certainly must be likely that a conscientious employer, faced with an applicant for a job whose accent or name suggests that he comes from other than England and Wales, would wish to be assured that in checking the list, as he is obliged to do, he is getting information that is as comprehensive as possible. Indeed, I would hope that it could work both ways so that the prospective employer in England, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man or wherever it may be, could likewise feel confident that when he checks the point of reference available to him he is getting comprehensive information throughout the British Isles. On that basis, I beg to move.


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