|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am grateful for the general welcome for the order. The noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, asked many detailed questions. If it is of assistance for similar future occasions, I am more than happy for such questions to be put to me in advance so that I can give a fully researched and authoritative answer. I know that the noble Lord will be patient with me if I promise to write to him about some of the fine detail because I would not want inadvertently to give a misleading impression.
The noble Lord asked about childminders. Childminders and the regulation of services to under-12s will continue to be within the remit of the trusts. Standards will be developed in conjunction with all stakeholders, including service users and providers. To answer his question about time, some standards will be phased in. To answer his question about review, yes, standards will be subject to continuous review.
I may able to deal with all of the noble Lord's questions; if not, I shall research Hansard and remedy the defects. He is right: improvement notices will state what action is required. To his specific question, "By what date?", the answer is yesin other words, the date is specified in the order.
Questions were posed about enforcement and how offences were to be prosecuted. We find the answers in Article 24 and following articles. Article 24, at page 17, deals with failure to comply with conditions. Contravention of regulations is dealt with in Article 25; false descriptions of establishments and agencies in Article 27; and failure to display certificate of registration in Article 28, which in part deals with one of the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis. Details relating to proceedings for offencesthe compendious answer to the noble Lord, Lord Glentoranare set out in Article 29. It says:
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis of Drumglass, that there ought to be consultation and conversation with affected organisations. I have no doubt that appropriate consultation will take place. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, asked about the regulation and improvement authority. One of the authority's functions relevant to the noble Lord's question is set out at Article 35(1)(c).
I repeat that I am conscious of the fact that both noble Lords asked detailed questions. I am inclined to the view that I have not answered all of them. I shall check carefully, as I said, and I shall write to both noble Lords. As always, I shall copy that letter not only to the Library but to all noble Lords who have shown an interest in our continuing work in this context.
Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for that reply. I apologise for firing late questions at him. As the noble and learned Lord knows better than anybody, we are moving on to our 14th order this week or something like that. It has not been easy to get ahead of oneself.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I accept that entirely. Sometimes, the briefing comes in late. I say simply that, if your Lordships want to give me advance notice, I may be able to provide a more satisfactory or, at least, more immediate service.
The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the approval of the order. It is another extremely important order, as its title implies. The order introduces provisions broadly in line with the Protection of Children Act 1999, Part II of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 and Part VII of the Care Standards Act 2000. The story is similar to that of the previous order, in that the provisions reflect those introduced in a Bill that had passed Second Stage in the Northern Ireland Assembly with a high level of general support.
Childcare organisations will have to carry out checks on prospective employees in childcare positions. The checks will be carried out with reference to a new statutory list of those deemed unsuitable to work with children that will be maintained by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety. Childcare organisations will be required to make referrals to the list if an individual has been dismissed or otherwise been removed from a childcare position on the grounds that he has harmed a child or placed a child at risk of harm. Similar provisions are made with regard to work with vulnerable adults. Those duties are imposed on providers of services for vulnerable adults.
It will be an offence for an individual to work in a childcare position while on the list. There is similar provision vis-a-vis vulnerable adults. In the case of work with children, it will be a further offence to work or seek work in a childcare position while on a list of those prohibited from working in education-related employment held by the Department of Education or while subject to a disqualification order made by a court. It will also be an offence for listed individuals to seek work in a childcare position and for an employer to offer work in a regulated position to such a person. Again, there is similar provision for work with vulnerable adults.
We have rightly been concerned with the welfare and care of children; we have not perhaps paid the same attention to vulnerable adults who require the protection of the law. I commend the order to the House.
Lord Glentoran: My Lords, while welcoming the order, I shall make a few points arising from briefing from the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and from the brief from officials for the scrutiny carried out by the Assembly before Stormont was prorogued.
The order refers at some length to Part V of the Police Act 1997 with regard to how the Act applies to Northern Ireland. Reading Hansard from another place, I do not consider that the Minister gave a positive answer as to when Part 5 of the Police Act 1997 would be introduced into Northern Ireland. As regards this order, it seems the sooner the better. I should be grateful to the noble and learned Lord if he would respond.
My next point concerns cross-border vetting arrangements. We are setting very high standards. Indeed, in the Bill the enforcement will be stronger in Northern Ireland than it is currently in England and Wales. The standards and organisation for listing paedophiles and likely people who should not be allowed to manage children in any way are now becoming very sound in the United Kingdom. However, we have the Republic next door and it does not have anything similar. Will the Minister ask his colleagues to put pressure on the Republic of Ireland in this respect when they have an opportunity. I am sure that there are a number of opportunities with cross-border bodies. It is a point worth making. We are leading in these measures, probably in Europe, but if we are going to lead, let us ensure that the others are on the bandwagon with us.
There is a question concerning cross-jurisdictional issues within the kingdom. The NSPCC believes that the Government have been slow to recognise the need for co-ordination between the agencies in the various principalities in England where they are different. There is the three bureau implementation group which has been set up recently, but it would be helpful to know whether the implementation group will become an established feature of inter-jurisdictional arrangements.
Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, I support the order which is clearly very important. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, referred to cross-border vetting arrangements. I believe that it is a matter of cross-many-borders and the position of other European Union states. It is important that the order is relevant to all who seek to work with children and adults with learning difficulties in Northern Ireland.
I welcome this order and beg your Lordships' indulgence that I speak at slightly greater length than I have on previous orders. It is a complex and sensitive issue, and of huge importance. Children and vulnerable adults continue to be abused in our society. Daily we read and hear of abductions, murders and abuse. Current police investigations into child pornography on the Internet illustrate the need to ensure that statutory and voluntary arrangements for protecting children are as robust and comprehensive as possible.
The Ulster Unionist Party welcomes the provision of checks to identify those on police lists who are considered unsuitable to work with children and vulnerable adults. I endorse and re-emphasise the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. It is
I want to press the Minister as to why Part 5 has not so far been extended to Northern Ireland. What is the Government's position on this matter? Will the department be able to access "soft police intelligence" in addition to criminal records, as would be possible under Part 5? I do not think that I am paranoid, but I need to be reassured that narrow tribal and sectarian considerations are not dictating policy, as I consider that they did in the recent Northern Ireland Police Bill.
Is there not a gap in the provision of the order relating to the arrangement for background checks on persons serving or having served in the Armed Forces and their families? Could a gap occur if a soldier serving overseas is tried but not convicted by court martial of an offence against the child? Would any records and any soft intelligence be passed back to the United Kingdom? Will the department be able to access background details of Armed Forces personnel and their families? If so, how?
We welcome the provision under Article 19 to enable any person associated with a childcare organisation to report a failure by his organisation or another childcare organisation to comply with the requirements under Articles 4 and 17. However, can the Minister clarify what is meant by "associated with"? Does that refer solely to someone who works for the organisation or does it extend to a parent or carer?
Furthermore, can the noble and learned Lord indicate the Government's position with regard to anonymity for whistleblowers? Anonymity for whistleblowers does not appear to extend to the protection of vulnerable adults. Are the Government making a distinction between the protection of vulnerable adults compared to children? Can the Minister assure me that the same provisions will apply to both?
The order requires that an individual must be given a sentence of at least one year before a disqualification order can be made. Surely a disqualification order should not be dependent on the length of sentence but, rather, that any conviction imposed by a court should be sufficient. I also have concerns regarding the apparent potential for those awaiting an appeal to continue working with children until their cases are heard. Again, the disqualification does not seem to extend to abuse of vulnerable adults.
Regarding the provision for non-childcare organisations such as scout troops and sports and leisure clubs to be accredited by the department, can the Minister give an indication of what financial support will be made available to assist with the development? How will such organisations be assisted? How will the added burden on voluntary youth leaders not become a deterrent? Does he agree that there must be balance and sensitivity?
The order introduces a fee in respect of pre-employment checks. I am concerned that such a fee will actually prove to be a disincentive to organisations adequately to vet applications or to move in the direction of accreditation. I understand that the Scottish Executive and the Home Office waive fees for organisations which rely on volunteers. Surely that same practice has to be applied to Northern Ireland.
One final point which has been covered by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. It dealt with the extraterritorial problems. Perhaps I may add to his comments that the provision should be applied not only to the Republic but to other European countries.