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Lord Eames: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams, will remember that a few days ago in Grand Committee we discussed the housing problems in Northern Ireland. I then took the opportunity to pay tribute to him for the sensitivity and the care with which he has taken on this no doubt unwelcome burden of dealing with many issues from Northern Ireland in the absence of devolution. I gladly repeat that tribute in the Chamber today.
I also want to repeat the emphasis of the order on housing. It illustrates the fact that many of the orders we are debating today overlap. They cover a wide range of consequent and similar concerns. This one on children and vulnerable adults is another example.
The trouble with speaking at the tail-end of a debate, when all the official spokespersons have had their say, is that you can tick off one by one the points that you were going to make as everyone else is making them. Having listened professionally to sermons of varying lengths, I can assure the Lord Privy Seal I shall not do that tonight. However, if he will bear with me for a short time, I wish to draw his attention to two aspects of the order based on my experience and responsibilities in Northern Ireland.
My first point, as my noble friend Lord Maginnis reminded us, has been referred to already by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoranthat is, the question of the scope of accreditation. We do not need to be reminded that in the voluntary sector there are many organisations which are not principally classified as childcaring organisations but which are actively involved with young peoplescouting, the Boys Brigade and a long list of other organisations, not least youth organisations run by the Churches.
If there is to be an opportunity, a door opened, for these organisations to become accredited, there will of course, as the order states, be a balanced responsibility. I welcome that. My own Church, the Church of Ireland, has for some time operated the Safeguarding Trust policy. This has been widely welcomed and is reflected in many of the other Churches.
If the door is being openedand I welcome that very much from the voluntary sectorcan we not go the second mile? The encouragement to back up the opportunity given by the order would surely be enhanced by the fact that there would be financial support and help on that aspect.
Secondly, I underline what my noble friend Lord Maginnis and the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, have said about the cross-border problem. I am privileged to be the Primate of an all-Ireland Church. There are many opportunities for employment, I know, through crossing the borderthis is growing in a European sense alsoand I urge the Minister to bring to the notice, perhaps through the cross-border organisations that exist, of his colleagues in the Republic of Ireland that there is a serious discrepancy between the standards required on both sides of the border, particularly when the order takes effect. Perhaps he will share our anxieties with his colleagues in that other jurisdiction.
Perhaps I may make a few brief points. Many of the matters to which I wished to refer have been spoken to already. I welcome the order but, like most of my colleagues, I have a few questions. The order is based mainly on the Westminster Protection of Children Act 1999 and the Care Standards Act 2000. While the order itself contains a number of unique provisions as a result of concerns already raised in consultationindeed, the order seeks to deal with some of the flaws in the Protection of Children Act 1999 in relation to vetting, non-childcare organisations and whistle-blowingthe original Bill was only part-way through its committee stage at the suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Many MLAs and children's organisations such as Barnado's and the NSPCC have welcomed the main thrust of the Bill. But a major issue came to light during its passage. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, and my noble friend Lord Maginnis have already raised the issue of the non-implementation of Part 5 of the Police Act. This was taken up in another place by Northern Ireland MPs. Some clarification was given on a number of important policy issues. The Minister indicated that his officials would look at the implications of implementing Part 5. Like my colleagues, I should like to know why and when.
Do the Government agree that the PECS Awareness Group is an excellent example of an inter-agency, multi-professional safeguarding initiative? Will the noble and learned Lord confirm its future role and operation?
Finally, I should like to place on record, along with the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, a very warm tribute to the noble and learned, Lord Williams of Mostyn, for his patience and sensitivity in dealing with issues pertaining to Northern Ireland.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. In Grand Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, was uncharacteristically in error. The correct description of Lord Eames, is "the noble and right reverend Lord"which is to be found on page 63 of the Companion.
Some very serious and challenging questions have been raised. Looking back, perhaps we ought to have agreedthe request was not made and I am not complainingthat the order should be taken in Grand Committee. Then, all of these pertinent and searching questions could have received a more appropriate response than I shall even attempt. In a sense, this is because the order is a step forward, and is not likely to be the final step in this particular context.
Some answers I can give. The noble Baroness, Lady Blood, referred to the PECS Awareness Group. It has produced a publication entitled Safer Organisations Safer Children. It includes representatives of the statutory and voluntary sectors. I confirm that it has worked well. We anticipateI hope that this is a comfort to the noble Baronessthat it will have a continuing important role to play in raising public awareness.
The accreditation scheme is designed to promote good child protection procedures. The noble and right reverend Lord asked about funding. Most organisations will already have good child protection procedures. Funding is provided to the project, Our Duty to Care, which offers training and support to organisations in the voluntary and community sectors. Consideration will be given to what further support may be necessary.
I am not happy that the material I have is sufficiently focused to provide appropriately reasoned answers to all the questions raised. I want to reflect on some of them, if your Lordships will allow me to do so.
A number of speakers referred to Part 5 of the Police Act. I know that my honourable friend, Mr Browne, the Minister with responsibility for health, social services and public safety, intends to discuss that issue with my honourable friend Jane Kennedy, who has responsibility in that area. I undertake personally to be in contact with Mr Brownewho is always responsive to requests from your Lordships, as we discovered when we were dealing with the Electoral Fraud
The noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, asked about armed services personnel. Checks will be possible through collaborative arrangements with the other United Kingdom jurisdictions. I want to ponder his question about vulnerable adultsagain, a serious questionas I do his question about whistle-blowing arrangements.
The noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, asked why a sentence of 12 months or more should be required as a pre-condition for a disqualification order. A disqualification order will result in a ban from employment for substantial periodspossibly for life. It was considered necessary to reflect that in the sentence imposed by the court. In other words, the court must consider the case to be sufficiently serious to warrant the imposition of a disqualification order.
Other questions were raised about whistle-blowers on which, again, I want to reflect. The noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, asked about soft police intelligence. Under current arrangements, the police service can provide soft police intelligence.
The noble Lords, Lord Maginnis and Lord Glentoran, and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, asked about cross-border issues. An important aspect of the implementation of the order will be co-operation between all jurisdictions to protect against individuals moving across borders. There is already the Three Bureaux Implementation Group, which comprises representatives of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is intended to facilitate the exchange of information between all jurisdictions. We anticipate the continuation of that collaborative approach.
I wish to give a further answer on the Irish Republic. I have mislaid the appropriate notes, but I can recite it from memory. At present, the Garda is carrying out work with a view to improving its practices. The North/South Ministerial Council may provide a useful avenue for that.
I undertake to collate all the necessary material and respond in writing to all noble Lords' questions within a fortnightI think that that is reasonable. If detailed answers are not forthcoming, it is because the issues might need further consideration. I hope that noble Lords find that period reasonable. At least a dozen serious questions were raised. I shall provide answers on the basis that I indicated. We should have put our minds to Grand Committee on this matter. If noble Lords do not think it unhelpful, if I could have notice of the questions, we could discuss matters with officials. I repeat that I offer briefings with officials before any Grand Committee. This is a good order. I am not saying that my explanation of it is perfect. I am conscious that it is not. For the moment, I beg to move.
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