HL Deb 21 May 1999 vol 601 cc592-617

2.46 p.m.

Lord Laming

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

I regard it as both a great honour and a responsibility to sponsor the Bill, which is specifically designed to strengthen the arrangements determined by the Government to protect vulnerable children and young people from the danger of abuse or exploitation.

I am sure that every Member of your Lordships' House has been shocked and dismayed by the steady stream of reports over the years which have catalogued the suffering of young people, often at the hands of those who have been entrusted with the responsibility to protect them from harm. Having been a director of social services for many years, I have no doubt not only of such practices but also of how sometimes weak and ineffective managers allow staff to leave, often with a reference, rather than confront their unacceptable behaviour. As the former Chief Inspector of the Social Services Inspectorate, I both set up inspections and reported to Ministers on serious failures to protect children.

Over the years, Ministers set up a number of inquiries into the reasons for those tragic events. The noble Lord, Lord Warner, produced a detailed and practical report in 1992 on the need for better safeguards, entitled Choosing with Care. I hope that he arrives in time to share with us his experience. My predecessor, Sir William Utting, was commissioned by the Government to produce two reports on the subject.

So, the issues are not new. But the good news is that today we have before us a positive Bill, which has been initiated and very ably piloted through another place by the Member for Stourbridge, Debra Shipley, who came top in the ballot for Private Member's Bills. I should like to pay a warm tribute to her for choosing this topic and for making such great progress through her skill and determination. We are indeed grateful to her.

It must be acknowledged that most people working with children and young people are dedicated to their task and many demonstrate daily their commitment and integrity. The challenge before us is to root out of the system the minority who are unsuitable.

The Bill cannot cover every issue, but your Lordships will know that the Government have established an inter-departmental working group and I feel sure that other matters will be included in future legislation. The Bill—on what is a complicated subject—addresses recommendations from earlier reports and will, when put into operation, afford a significant improvement on the current arrangements for safeguarding young people.

I am happy to say that when the Bill was originally placed before the House of Commons, there was a broad consensus from the outset in support of the principles it embodied. There was, however, concern over the implications it held for the rights of the individual within these proposals. There was also some concern that the Bill would not capture those individuals who had moved on after harming children, when such incidents came to light only some time afterwards. However, by Third Reading in the other place, there was a general feeling that the concerns which had been raised at Second Reading and in Committee had been comprehensively examined and fully addressed in the amendments made, with the result that the Bill had emerged considerably strengthened and improved. There was a markedly positive and co-operative—though still testing—all-party approach to the Bill, which I have every reason to believe will continue in your Lordships' House.

I now turn to the objects of the Bill. It has four main aims. The first is to place the Department of Health's current administrative "Consultancy Service Index"— which lists individuals considered unsuitable to work with children—on a statutory footing; and to require regulated organisations, and to permit other organisations, to refer such names for inclusion on the new list.

Secondly, it seeks to provide rights of appeal against inclusion on both the Department of Health list and the similar "List 99" of the Department for Education and Employment, which has always been a statutory list.

Thirdly, the Bill seeks to require regulated childcare organisations, and to permit other organisations, to check the names of anyone they propose to employ in posts involving regular contact with children against both of the departmental lists and not to employ them if listed—although in List 99 cases only if listed on certain grounds.

Fourthly, it seeks to amend Part V of the Police Act 1997 to allow the Criminal Records Bureau to act as a central access point for those applying to work with children to criminal records information, List 99 and the new Department of Health list.

These objects are realised as follows. The first group of clauses—Clauses 1–4—transform the current Department of Health consultancy index into a new statutory list, with rights of appeal against inclusion and, in certain circumstances, with the leave of the tribunal, the right to have the tribunal instead of the Secretary of State make a determination on listing.

To follow the structure of the intended proposals, it is important to bear in mind two key definitions; namely, "child care organisation" and "child care position", both of which are set out in Clause 12 of the Bill. The definition "child care organisation" in Clause 12 includes the regulated public, private and voluntary sector providers of the services concerned. "Child care position" means a position concerned with the provision of accommodation, social services and health care services to children for which any organisation—that is, not merely a "child care organisation" as defined—is responsible, and is such as to enable the holder to have regular contact with children in the course of his duties.

It is important to distinguish between regulated organisations—that is, "child care organisations" which are within the mandatory scheme of the Bill—arid other organisations, separately and differently defined in Clause 12, which are placed within the parallel permissive scheme. For example, they do not have to refer names for listing; they do not have to check proposed appointees against lists; and they are not obliged to refuse employment. In practice, it is expected that they will want to do all of those things since they will have the means of checking names more easily and efficiently available as a result of this Bill.

Turning to the detail of the Bill, Clause 1 requires the Secretary of State to keep the list, and confers discretionary powers upon him to remove names from the list.

Clause 2 specifies by whom names may be referred for inclusion; the circumstances in which reference may be made, including whether or not an employee has already left or transferred from the childcare position; and the procedure that the Secretary of State must follow in determining references. Regulated organisations—that is, those defined as "child care organisations"—"must refer" names; and other organisations, for example in the unregulated parts of the voluntary sector, "may" refer names.

Your Lordships will wish to know that Clause 2 as now drafted has been affected by two direct alterations and one indirect alteration following amendment in the other place. First, incompetence has been removed as a ground for reference of a name, with the result that misconduct is now alone the relevant ground.

Secondly, in the light of concerns over individuals abusing and moving on well before their deeds are discovered, the Bill has been extended to make the provision under Clause 2(3) for referring names when information subsequently comes to light, although at the same time making it clear that no childcare organisation will be obliged to refer a case where the incident was concluded before the commencement of the clause.

Thirdly, the indirect change is the one which, now, in Clause 4(1)(b) gives an avenue of approach to the tribunal for individuals who have been included provisionally in the list for particular lengths of time. There was understandable concern that people in that category should not be in danger of languishing for indefensible periods without the possibility of review.

Clause 3 sets out the procedure for transferring names from the existing Consultancy Service Index to the new statutory list created by Clause 1. Clause 4 provides for appeals to the tribunal against any decision of the Secretary of State to include a name permanently in the list or, with leave, against his refusal to remove a name once included.

Clauses 5 and 6 relate to the Department of Employment and Education's List 99. This is a list similar to, but not identical with, the Consultancy Service Index. The primary difference is that List 99 contains individuals entered for a greater variety of reasons, for example on medical grounds or in connection with types of misconduct unrelated to inappropriate behaviour towards children. In order to make the "one-stop shop" arrangements work, it is necessary to separate out the various grounds for inclusion so that a category may be identified which covers only unsuitability to work with children. This is achieved by the amendments in Clause 5 to the 1988 Education Reform Act. Clause 6 then goes on to amend the 1988 Act to empower the Secretary of State to make regulations giving similar rights of appeal to the new tribunal in List 99 cases as Clause 4 permits in health department cases.

Clause 7 is one of the most important clauses in the whole Bill because it prescribes what the effect of inclusion in the lists will mean. It requires childcare organisations to check both the health department list and the relevant part of List 99 before offering employment in childcare positions and to refuse to offer employment in such positions if the individual's name appears in either list. Subsection (2) makes special provision for employment agencies so that their operations are caught by the Bill's provisions.

Clause 8 enhances this protection as it paves the way for accessing both lists and criminal records simultaneously when the Criminal Records Bureau is up and running. It achieves this by inserting amendments into Part V of the Police Act 1997 which makes searches through those procedures possible to all organizations—not just regulated childcare organisations—in respect of childcare positions so that both criminal record certificates and enhanced criminal record certificates may be obtained which also include the result of searches on the two departmental lists. Until Part V of the Police Act 1997 becomes operative, Clause 13 makes it clear that organisations may access the departmental lists direct.

Clause 9 and the schedule provide for the constitution and operation of the tribunal. In particular, Clause 9(2) lists examples of the areas that the regulation-making power may be used to cover. The joint effect will be to produce a type of tribunal which is markedly independent. It is the Lord Chancellor who will appoint the president of the tribunal and all the panel members. In addition, by virtue of paragraph 8 of the schedule the tribunal is placed under the supervision of the Council on Tribunals.

Clause 10 contains a power by affirmative order to extend the protections of the Bill to adults suffering from mental impairment. Although it was not feasible to hope that this Bill could include al the categories of vulnerable adults, adults in this particular group are generally acknowledged to be particularly at risk. For this reason, it is right to include the possibility of extending the Bill's scheme to benefit them.

The remaining provisions of the Bill do not require lengthy introduction. Clause 11 sets out the necessary financial provisions. Clause 12 contains the definitions. Clause 13 provides for further transitional provisions to ensure that cases referred to the Consultancy Service Index where no final decision has been taken on inclusion at the date of commencement should be treated as if they were a referral under Clause 2 of the Bill.

The implementation of the Bill is dealt with in Clause 14. As a considerable amount of preparatory work will be needed, Clause 14 does not fix a date for implementation but provides for implementation by order on different dates for different provisions. The actual arrangements will be for Ministers to progress, but I hope, as I am sure will other noble Lords, that we can expect to see them taken forward as speedily as possible.

Finally, I should confirm that apart from amendments to Part V of the Police Act 1997, which extends to the whole of the United Kingdom, the Bill otherwise extends only to England and Wales. I understand that the authorities in Scotland are considering setting up a parallel system which will require separate legislation.

No one will, I think, doubt the case for the Bill. Events in recent years have underlined how imperfect society's defences have been in relation to the abuse of vulnerable children and adults which has rightly shocked the nation. At the same time, however, as the legislature is invited to respond with measures designed to control the abuse of young people, the legislature has also to ensure that its response is properly balanced. As might be expected, the debate in another place was principally, and rightly in my view, concerned with those questions of balance. In the ways I have sought to explain, significant efforts have been made to improve the balance of the Bill and they enable me more confidently to commend it to this House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Laming.)

3.1 p.m.

Baroness David

My Lords, I cannot resist beginning with the comment that the Second Reading debate on the Protection of Children Bill has nine speakers whereas the Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty Bill had more than double that number, 20 speakers. I think that that is a slight comment on this House.

I congratulate Debra Shipley on her excellent work in guiding this Bill through another place. It involved a great deal of hard work, and five Committee days; and that is unusual for a Private Member's Bill. We are lucky to have the noble Lord, Lord Laming, steering the Bill through this House. A more suitable pilot cannot be imagined. His introduction has demonstrated how ably he will conduct the Bill. His skill and knowledge came out clearly.

As vice chairman of the all-party children group, I wish to say how strongly that group supports the Bill. Having been a member of the group for a long time under the splendid leadership of Lady Faithfull, I am certain she would have been a strong supporter of the Bill.

In her Second Reading speech in another place, the present chairman of the group, Mrs. Llin Golding, explained that since 1995 she has been working for a coherent, cross-sector system to identify people unsuitable to work with children. In the past few years we have heard far too much of the maltreatment of children living away from home. There have been too many scandals. We have waited a long time for the publication of the Waterhouse report on the North Wales inquiry into the situation in Clwyd and Gwynedd. I should like to know, if possible, when we can expect that report, which I am sure will give us a good many shocks.

It is to the former government's credit that because of those scandals they commissioned Sir William Utting to write the report, People Like Us. It is on some of its recommendations that the Bill is based. This Government followed that by announcing in June 1998 that they had decided that the safeguards then in place to prevent those considered unsuitable to work with children from gaining employment with them should be strengthened and a more streamlined approach proposed. They set up, An Inter-departmental Working Group on preventing unsuitable people from working with children and abuse of trust". That report was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Laming. It was published in December 1998. The Bill has taken up a number of its recommendations. For this Bill to have had its Second Reading so soon after the publication of that report in February this year shows a commendable determination to get on with the business as soon as possible.

The noble Lord, Lord Laming, has done an admirable job in explaining the aims and content of the Bill and it is quite unnecessary for me to do the same. Indeed, it would be otiose to do so. What I should like to do is air a few anxieties. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Laming, did that, too. What is the timing? How soon can we expect the one-stop-shop, which is so necessary and is to be provided by the Criminal Records Bureau, to be set up and operational? The Bill enables this to happen by amending in Clause 8 the Police Act 1997. But I was a little daunted to see a Home Office press notice of December 1998 announcing that a self-financing CRB, under the management of the Passport Agency, would take two years to establish. Does this mean that the Bill, although passed this summer, will not be implemented until December 2000? It would be very sad if that were so.

When we hear how inadequate the present index is, that is a worry, too. According to Utting, there are only 750 names referred by employers on the DH index and some 4,000 other names have been referred by the police. Not all police forces send the information to the DH—the figures seem low—and one wonders how far the whole country is covered.

The department checked on its records to see whether the range of authorities referring names was what might be expected and it found that two large authorities very rarely made referrals. There is a good deal of planning to be done before a really satisfactory referral system is established. It is of course right that an appeals system should be there, but no doubt regulations will have to be passed before the tribunal conducting those appeals can start work.

The Bill is not quite so comprehensive in its cover as one might wish. It is estimated that there are about 100,000 nannies working in the UK and there is no statutory register to ensure the training qualifications or appropriate vetting of these individuals. Then of course there are au pairs. But what we must appreciate is that this Bill is a very much needed start in improving the present situation. And that, as I said at the beginning of my remarks, is a cause for congratulation and satisfaction. It needs our strong support. I wish this Bill a very speedy passage through this House.

I have to apologise that, owing to the number of speakers on the first debate and the Statement, I shall not be able to stay until the end of the debate. I have apologised to the Minister replying and he has been very kind about it. I do not like having to leave before the end, but as I very much wanted to speak of my enthusiasm for the Bill I broke my usual good intentions.

3.7 p.m.

Lord Warner

My Lords, I rise strongly to support the Bill. I, too, offer my warm congratulations to Debra Shipley on taking it through the other place. I support the Bill as someone who for six years ran one of the largest social services departments in the country and who chaired the previous government's committee of inquiry into the selection, development and management of staff in children's homes. In 1992, that produced a report called Choosing with Care. Since 1992, I have worked closely with the noble Lord, Lord Laming, in trying to progress the implementation of the recommendations set out in that report. I am delighted to be here with him today to help progress the Bill. I am sorry that I missed the beginning of his speech, but I can assure your Lordships that there is no one better equipped to take the Bill through your Lordships' House.

I have seen at first hand the serious consequences for vulnerable children of their contact with people who are completely unsuitable to look after them. One of the features of the past decade has been our growing awareness of society and our understanding of the lengths to which some men—I am afraid that it is overwhelmingly men—go to get close to children so that they can abuse them. Home Office figures show that there are well over 100,000 men with convictions for sexual offences against children. A study of 92 convicted paedophiles showed that about one third of them had abused between 10 and 400 victims each. So some paedophiles are very prolific.

Fortunately, we have tightened up the law, and its enforcement, on sex offenders in recent years. Anyone now gaoled for a sex offence must undergo supervision by probation officers and must notify changes of address to the police. However, there are still many paedophiles around who fall outside those controls because they do not have convictions or their convictions relate to a much earlier period. I am afraid that they are attracted to vulnerable children like wasps round a jam jar. That is why this Bill is so important.

Regrettably, I have found, particularly in my time in local government, reluctance by some public bodies to face up to their responsibilities when a professional person has been found to be abusing their position of trust with a young person. I have seen many cases of organisational denial when teachers, doctors and social workers have been found to have abused that trust. Too often, such people have been quietly hustled off the premises without much regard being given to where they go. As we tried to demonstrate as a committee in the Choosing with Care report, too many local authorities did not have robust enough checks in place to stop them employing someone who had been found by another employer to be totally unsuitable for work with children. An area of greatest weakness was employment agencies, where sometimes quite inadequate checks were carried out, but employers assume that full checks had been made.

I welcome the commitment of the Government to apply and enforce the principles of Choosing with Care to the recruitment and selection of staff working with any children who live away from home. I am pleased that that will be done not only in social services departments but also within many other settings such as prisons.

Many directors of social services have shown strong personal commitment to ensuring robust vetting and selection procedures for staff and other senior professionals. However, many others would do well in their particular capacities to emulate their good example. I am certainly glad that in my capacity as chairman of the Youth Justice Board I shall be able to oversee the application of tougher procedures across the juvenile secure estate.

The provisions in the Bill will plug some of the gaps that we identified in Choosing with Care, when new legislation was required. We wanted to see those employed to work with children being required to notify a central list of staff who have left in circumstances which demonstrated their unsuitability. We wanted those same employers to be required, by law, to access those lists before employing a person to work with children, whether or not they came through an employment agency. I am pleased to see that this Bill delivers those requirements and goes further by linking employer information on unsuitability far more effectively with criminal record checks.

In the past there has been a problem in the delays and difficulties of access to police checks in some parts of the country, together with the need to access separately the Department of Health consultancy index and the DFE list 99. Unfortunately, that has led to people being employed to work with children before any vetting has taken place. It has been possible, for example, for residential childcare staff to be employed through agencies and then to move on to another job before the first lot of checks have been made.

The provisions in the Bill to bring all the checks together through the new criminal records agency should close that rather glaring loophole, especially the provision in Clause 7. I do not wish to make a party political point, but I want to respond briefly to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady David, about the time taken to introduce the criminal records bureau. Part V of the Police Act was not funded under the previous government's public expenditure provisions, so it has taken time to put in place the money to bring that agency into force.

As a society we have had to learn some painful lessons over the past decade or so about those who abuse children. I am afraid that there are a significant number of men who like sex with children. Many of those men are prepared to target vulnerable children and to groom them carefully for their own purposes. Some such men have been found to be in positions of professional trust. There have been mortifying episodes of men who have been seen as experts in childcare abusing children over many years. The idea that paedophiles are all sleazy characters in greasy raincoats, hanging around school playgrounds, I am afraid is a myth. If we are to protect vulnerable children from abuse by those whom they should be able to trust, we need robust legislative provisions of the kind set out in this Bill.

The Bill provides safeguards against people being labelled unfairly, with a good system of hearing appeals. But we must always remember to err on the side of those who are most vulnerable; that is, the children rather than the adults. At the end of the day, the adults can go and get another job not working with children. But the children can have their lives ruined through abuse from powerful adults in positions of trust. Children who are looked after away from home for the most part did not choose that option but were placed there by public services. They are entitled to the protection that this Bill confers. I strongly support its speedy passage.

3.15 p.m.

Lord Rix

My Lords, I am delighted to speak in support of this Bill, so ably moved by my noble friend Lord Laming this afternoon. At the risk of over-egging the pudding, I too should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the honourable Member for Stourbridge, Debra Shipley, for using her good fortune in the Private Member's Ballot in another place to bring forward such timely and constructive proposals.

As the president of Mencap, I particularly welcome the Government's acknowledgement of the vulnerability of disabled children to all forms of abuse. Learning-disabled children are especially likely to be abused, for many reasons. They range from the very general, such as the lack of value placed on disabled children by society and the lack of choice and control which disabled children have over their own lives—to much more specific considerations, such as the fact that children with learning disabilities are three times more likely than other children to be cared for away from home. Disabled children may also face an increased exposure to medication, which has scope for misuse. They may also rely upon multiple carers, and children may face the additional problem of a very limited ability to communicate about abuse. Unlike other children, learning disabled children often cannot run and tell; they may not be able to run and they may have absolutely no speech.

The Protection of Children Bill is particularly relevant in view of disabled children's reliance upon services provided in a wide range of settings; for instance, health, education, social services, and those provided by the voluntary sector. A child with a learning disability may attend a school provided by the local education authority, go to an after-school club managed by a voluntary sector provider, during the holidays attend a play scheme run by social services, and stay once a month in a respite centre run by a health trust.

This Bill will, for the first time, safeguard against offenders moving undetected between jobs in a variety of care settings. The Bill creates a national register of offenders against children, to which employers will have a statutory duty both to contribute and consult. One would expect employers to consult existing registers in advance of recruiting childcare workers, and not to employ candidates with a history of abuse. But this Bill will strengthen the quality of the recruitment of staff who encounter children on a regular basis by making this a statutory requirement. It has, in the past, been more difficult for employers to make a contribution to such lists, particularly in cases where suspected employees resign while under investigation.

I do not want to trouble your Lordships by recounting tragic and unpalatable details of the numerous incidents of abuse which have been brought to my attention over my years at Mencap. Independent investigations such as the Longcare inquiry made public the honors of abuse against people with learning disabilities, and highlighted the frustrations experienced by families who realise that earlier allegations of abuse in other settings were never acted upon. It is sufficient, as president of Mencap, to state categorically that had this Bill been on the statute book earlier, some of the crimes committed by serial perpetrators could have been prevented. We cannot rewrite history for those who have suffered in the past, but we can seek to improve children's safety by reforming the system of checks and safeguards.

A more comprehensive register will offer more comprehensive protection for children. But the Bill also has an additional advantage in protecting the civil liberties of those who are referred on to the register. At present, there is no mechanism for challenging inclusion on either the Department of Health's Consultancy Index or the Department for Education and Employment's List 1999.

This Bill introduces a right to appeal against inclusion on either register. The protection of children inevitably has to be weighed against the civil liberties of individuals who are suspected of abuse. I believe that this Bill achieves the right balance. It errs on the side of caution by placing known abusers and those suspected of abuse on the register, but it allows a right of appeal for all.

Since the Government sought to encompass the European Convention on Human Rights into British law, there can be no laxity in these matters. The strong independent appeals procedures proposed in this Bill provide a forum for the re-examination of evidence afresh and that forum will be charged to make its own decision on the merits of a particular case. It will also be able to review the way in which departmental decisions have been reached.

This Bill is fully compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides assurance that it has already been subject to detailed scrutiny on the issue of civil liberties.

This Bill is by no means all-embracing, but it provides a solid basis for the expansion of the safety of children by closing some of the current loopholes which are exploited by people who physically or sexually abuse children. The Bill improves the safety of some of the most vulnerable in our society. I therefore warmly welcome the protection this Bill will afford children with learning disabilities, and I wish it Godspeed through your Lordships' House.

3.21 p.m.

Baroness Thornton

My Lords, protecting children from those who would do them harm must be a priority for our Government and for every decent member of society. I am pleased to be able to contribute to the Second Reading debate on the Bill. I join noble Lords in expressing thanks to our good friend Debra Shipley for using her position in the Private Members' Ballot to bring forward this Bill, steering it through the other place and bringing it to us in its present form. It is also important to recognise the important part that the Government's positive response to this Bill has played in its passage.

The context for this Bill is that at the moment the various lists which contain the names of people who might be a risk to children are split up in various places. The "Shipley Bill", if I might call it that, is part of a multi-staged process for rationalising the system. It will consolidate "List 99" held by the DfEE and the DoH Consultancy Index and put the new index on a legal basis.

The Bill also establishes the foundations for the next stage in this process: the creation of a "one-stop-shop" access point for checks in the form of the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB). Once that is up and running—I am told that that will be in two or three years' time—anyone who employs staff with "substantial unsupervised access" to children will be able to go to the CRB to check potential employees against the Police National Computer database of convictions. Those are the two indices.

The voluntary organisation, NCH Action for Children, with which I have an association, in common with some of the other major voluntary agencies which deal with children and young people currently, has an arrangement by which it can access such information through VOCS—the Voluntary Organisations Consultancy Index—which is funded by the DoH and run under the auspices of the NCVCCO, the National Council of Voluntary Child Care Organisations.

One of the important features of the proposed new scheme is that all voluntary agencies will be able to use it, including small ones. That is important, especially given the Government's projected increase in childcare provision. My understanding is that once the CRB is established, VOCS will be wound up.

Until the CRB is up and running, which will not be for at least two years, the significance of the Shipley Bill is that it simply consolidates the two government indices and puts them on a proper legal footing. Those whose names are on them will be able to make representations to the Secretary of State if they believe that they should not be included on the new index.

I know that some of those in the civil liberties lobby have expressed concern about the notion that the index will include the names of people who are believed to be a risk to children yet have never been convicted of a criminal offence. As a result, it is understandable that the Bill was amended along those lines during its passage through the Commons. However, it is important that, in due course, primary legislation is passed so that it will become a criminal offence for someone to seek work with children if he has a specified conviction.

This is a good Bill and it should not be watered down any further. It is right to take into account civil liberties considerations, but the balance should not be tilted any further away from child protection concerns. I believe that the balance is about right now.

We must never forget that the provisions of the Bill are only one weapon, albeit a welcome and important one, in the battle to protect children from would-be abusers. The people whose names go on the index are a very small minority of actual abusers. There is no substitute for vigilance and intelligence-led policing to identify prospective abusers and particularly vulnerable children, and seeking to keep one from the other.

In recent years, it has often seemed that the abusers were one step ahead; that for many children, we came too late to the knowledge that many of those taken into the care of the state were preyed upon by those who had responsibility for them. Now, with the presence of paedophile rings and those who trade in children on the Internet, I fear it seems that, again, the abusers are able to be one step ahead of us. I know that the Government are considering that issue which, I believe, needs urgent attention. In other words, the answer is that we must be as creative and resourceful as they are.

Finally, although I welcome the Bill, I should also like to raise one point. Once the new consolidated index is up and running, the demand on its services seems likely to increase. It is important that sufficient resources are invested in staff to make sure that that demand is met. I seek an assurance from the Minister that that will be the case. I welcome the Bill and I thank Debra Shipley for introducing it.

3.27 p.m.

Lord Tomlinson

My Lords, I commence by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Laming, on the excellent way in which he introduced the Bill today. I too offer my congratulations to Debra Shipley not only on her good fortune in winning first place in the ballot but also on her good sense of priority in her choice of subject matter for the Bill. The valuable work of the noble Lord and Debra Shipley is an important step forward in the protection of children.

In view of the expertise of many Members of your Lordships' House on this subject, expertise evidenced by the speeches already made, I was diffident about whether or not to speak. But I have decided to do so because the protection of children is not just a matter for our experts. It is a duty of us all. We all have a duty of care. Therefore, I shall demonstrate my lack of expertise in this matter because we all have that duty.

This Bill concerns the vetting element in employment procedures rather than the overall process of child protection. However, it is significant because it seeks to improve the identifications of persons unsuited to work with children and to create the foundations of a one-stop shop for single channel access to all relevant information.

At present, there are various registers of interest for a potential employer concerned about eliminating from employment with children those with a record which demonstrates their unsuitability. The noble Lord, Lord Laming, outlined the detail of those various registers with great clarity.

The mixture of statutory and non-statutory registers and criminal records is clearly an inadequate response to the view that society is obliged to protect its children. This Bill seeks to remedy that inadequacy.

In that fragmented situation, the dangers that exist and continue to exist are self-evident. Principal among those is that a child molester or abuser can slip through the extremely inadequate net, gain employment with children and then, from a position of trust, abuse the most vulnerable and innocent in our society—its children. Commenting on the Bill when it was in another place, the chief executive of the Children's Society said: It is crazy to leave the protection of children to chance. We need rigorous checks by law". That is what the Bill seeks to do.

Childcare organisations will, under the terms of the Bill, have a mandatory duty to vet prospective employees for childcare positions. Even organisations that fall outside the definition of "childcare organisations" will be able to vet both employees and, importantly, volunteers. All these bodies should refer names of abusers to the list. Fundamental to the protection of children is the element of a strong, mandatory framework of vetting and, equally important—which the Bill addresses—is the right of appeal to an independent tribunal to challenge inclusion on the list by those who believe that it is not justified.

The Bill puts the Department of Health Consultancy Service Index on a statutory basis. It requires checks to be made, and childcare organisations are required not to employ listed persons. The Bill requires regulated bodies to refer names for inclusion on the new list, and amends Part V of the Police Act 1997 to allow eventually the Criminal Records Bureau to act as the central access point for all data, be they criminal records, List 99, or the new Department of Health list.

The Bill deserves our attention and support. In supporting it, we shall be taking an important step forward in giving protection to those who need and deserve it, and those who are all too frequently denied it—our children. I give the Bill my warm support.

3.31 p.m.

Lord Freyberg

My Lords, I should like to be brief and to speak as a young person who works with young vulnerable people. I am grateful to the Government for the Bill. I wish that it had been around before. It is very welcome now, and I hope that it makes speedy progress through this House.

3.32 p.m.

Lord Meston

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Laming, and its sponsor in another place on bringing forward the Bill. I support the Bill and those questions that I ask seek simply to ensure, where possible, that its mechanisms work as well as possible.

As has been said, the Bill received necessary improvements in another place in order to provide sufficient and proper safeguards for those who are, or may be placed on the new lists. Strictly speaking this is not a government Bill and so it does not require a statement of compatibility under Section 19 of the Human Rights Act, which was recently enacted. Perhaps that represents something of a lacuna in the case of a Private Member's Bill which has government support.

We had assurances from the noble Lord, Lord Rix, that he is satisfied that the Bill fully complies with the European Convention on Human Rights. Most of us would think that that is at least as good as a statement of compatibility by any Minister. However, I hope that the Minister can reassure us that the Government regard the Bill as compatible with the European convention.

Although we should not look uncritically at those aspects of the Bill in Committee, we should also be satisfied that the Bill operates as effectively as it should do. It will only truly live up to its title as a Bill to protect children if it allows as wide a range as possible of employers and others access to information about as many people as possible who are reasonably thought to be a risk to children. That means looking at how the lists are to be compiled, what use can be made of them, and by whom. I prefer not to use the expression "one stop shop". It may be useful but it tends to suggest nothing more than mere consumer convenience, and to understate the necessity for a single point of reference as just part of the attack on the serious problem described by noble Lords.

This Bill is not confined to dealing with paedophiles. It sensibly adopts the wide meaning of "harm" in the Children Act 1989. However, child sexual abuse is the main problem with which it will have to deal. Inevitably, child sexual abuse is an under-reported crime. In the course of a fairly grubby career in family law, I suspect that I have met rather more paedophiles than most people. They are devious and manipulative and they can be plausible and skilled at self-justification. Paragraph 13.23 of the Utting Report correctly pointed out that people who wish to exploit children, particularly career abusers, will seek out weak points in any system, wherever they occur. So I welcome the extension of this Bill to cover people supplied by employment agencies, a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Warner.

As noted in the Utting Report, agency work can provide cover and opportunity for abusers. It is not unusual for people to be on the books of several agencies at the same time, and sometimes the agencies concerned may not have a strong incentive to report suspected misconduct. At Paragraph 14.6 the Utting Report also noted the confusion as to who is responsible for requesting checks in the case of agency staff. I therefore hope also that the amendments to the Employment Agencies Act 1973 proposed in the current Employment Relations Bill have been drafted with this Bill in mind.

The point about agency staff is just one aspect of the need to ensure that the Bill covers as many potential employees as reasonably possible. The definition of "employment" in Clause 12 is wide enough to cover volunteers and those who might claim to be self-employed. But I rather wish that that extended meaning received more prominence and that one did not have to get to the interpretation clause at the end of the Bill before that point was made clear.

I am not clear that the definitions of "childcare organisation" and "childcare position" are wide enough to cover the provision of transport for children; for example, by coach companies running school buses. I was recently in a case in which a school bus driver befriended and "groomed" adolescent girls, to use the jargon, in order to have a sexual relationship with at least two of them as soon as their 16th birthdays were reached. One of the girls, vulnerable and immature, had two children by this man before she was 18 and the resulting care proceedings in respect of those children were very sad. I should like to be reassured, if it is possible to be so, that drivers of coaches technically employed by independent contractors could be covered by the provisions of the Bill.

Another technical question relates to the circumstances in which people might be referred for inclusion on the lists. Clause 2 commendably covers a wide range of situations but it probably does not include either the non-renewal of a fixed-term contract of an employee or the decision not to re-use a particular agency worker when the organisation concerned has good reasons not to do so.

Clause 2 of the Bill provides that childcare organisations shall refer certain individuals and Clause 7 provides that such organisations shall ascertain whether those they wish to employ are included on the lists. Although those obligations are stated in mandatory terms, the Bill does not appear to state any sanctions. Under Clause 2, other organisations have an option rather than a mandatory obligation to refer individuals. Although conscientious organisations will welcome the Bill, other organisations, perhaps tempted to cut corners through pressures of time or money, may need incentives to use this new system. In any event, it is a system which will require to be publicised to ensure that it works to best effect.

Clause 14 limits most of the Bill to England and Wales. The noble Lord, Lord Laming, mentioned that there is or will be a parallel system to run in Scotland. That rather mystified me. It suggested a parallel system running alongside but not actually merging with this new system. It does not need me to say that paedophiles in particular are no respecters of national boundaries. Therefore one would ask, will there in fact be a United Kingdom-wide single point of reference and database? Will an organisation in England or Wales seeking information about an individual know that the answer to the inquiry covers anything which may be recorded in Scotland or Northern Ireland? Similarly, will those who inquire in Scotland and Northern Ireland be assured that the search will extend to all lists throughout the United Kingdom, and indeed the British Isles? I say "the British Isles" because I recall a case in which the paedophile concerned started his career in the Channel Isles. Will responsible childcare organisations, including schools, outside the United Kingdom, which are proposing to offer employment to someone from Britain have access to the information on the lists?

Will local authority social services departments concerned with childcare cases, and also family court welfare officers and guardians ad litem, have access? Quite often in such cases a mother involved in proceedings concerning her child or children will start a relationship with a new male partner who she puts forward to the court or authorities as a reliable potential step-parent. Normally the court welfare officer or social services will do a criminal record search. In a case I was recently involved in, a convicted paedophile sought out children by forming relationships with their mothers or women in the extended family by using dating agencies to meet these women. In the subsequent care proceedings he was discovered to be a so called "Schedule 1 offender", that is, under the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, and a very real menace. Will a court welfare officer be able to search not just for criminal records but also for the wider category of information to be entered on these lists?

I ask how long it will be before this Bill, when enacted, will become fully operational. I know that that concerns other noble Lords. Is the computer technology in place? When it is operational, will the system work quickly? The Utting report noted that credit organisations can check a person's creditworthiness almost instantly, by way of contrast to the time it can take to discover a criminal record—although I accept that that has recently improved.

The same questions as to timing apply to Clause 10. There is a similar need to protect older people with mental impairment. In several cases involving residential homes I have seen employers who have taken on unsuitable staff failing to notice obvious inconsistencies or unexplained gaps in the CVs provided by job applicants, or failing to take up references which turned out to be bogus or worthless. Such employers are often reluctant to recognise or admit that they could or should have been more careful. That reminds us that this Bill, although potentially most valuable, is only part of the attack on abuse. It serves to reinforce the ultimate duty of care resting with employers and employment agencies and the duty to adopt rigorous employment practices.

3.44 p.m.

Earl Howe

My Lords, may I, first, add my name to the burgeoning membership of the Lord Laming appreciation society by congratulating him on having introduced this Bill and on the exemplary way in which he did so. Congratulations are also most certainly due to the honourable Member for Stourbridge in another place.

Having listened to the debate, I am in no doubt that this is a Bill that commands a very wide measure of cross-party support. I should like to take the opportunity of saying at the outset that from these Benches we welcome it warmly. As has been emphasised by a number of noble Lords, it is a measure that aims to tackle what for all of us has been a shameful and wholly unacceptable feature of our national life; namely, the absence of an adequate vetting procedure to prevent unsuitable and dangerous individuals from working with children.

This subject was examined in depth by the inter-departmental working group that reported last December. The study took its cue, at least in part, from the conclusions of the review chaired by Sir William Utting and commissioned by the previous government, which recommended a whole range of improvements in the safeguards for children living away from home.

The need for such improvements should not be doubted. Other noble Lords have expressed their feelings on this issue more eloquently than I can. I do not think that we could seriously have contemplated carrying on exactly as we were, in the face of the most appalling succession of scandals involving the abuse of youngsters in children's homes and schools by members of staff whose previous records had remained undiscovered for long periods of time. There are many tens of thousands of such individuals and often they have been able to move around from job to job with complete freedom and impunity.

This Bill seeks to put a stop to that. As has been said, no Act of Parliament will be able to prevent child abuse altogether. Indeed, this measure attempts to tackle only part of the problem, bearing in mind that a high proportion of child abuse takes place not in the workplace but in the home. Nor should any new system of centralised record keeping be seen as a substitute for the normal processes of checking and reference taking that any prospective employer needs to undertake. But a co-ordinated, national system of employee vetting, such as is envisaged here, must surely play a key part in any government-led initiative to protect children.

The difficulty in framing a Bill of this kind is the balance that it strikes between protecting children and protecting individual civil liberties. There are a number of issues on that theme that, no doubt, we shall wish to explore in Committee. I think we need to bear in mind constantly that the creation of statutory blacklists, however desirable the underlying motive, brings with it the potential for injustice. One of the fundamental freedoms of our society is the freedom of being allowed to do the work that you want to do. We remove that freedom from a man or woman only in the most compelling of circumstances; and in a way which, as far as possible, safeguards their remaining civil liberties. I am quite certain that it is not part of this Bill's purpose to stigmatise a group of people or to make those people permanently unemployable in any possible sphere of work. Its aim is to protect children.

I hope, because of that, that each of us in his bones resists instinctively the notion of a statutory blacklist that is compiled by an administrative rather than a judicial process. That of course is the notion enshrined in this Bill. Despite those natural instincts, I am in this case wholly persuaded that it is right to proceed along that path; not simply for the compelling reasons of which we are all aware, but because of the checks and balances incorporated into this Bill designed to minimise the risk of injustice. Chief among these is the provision for an appeal against inclusion on either List 99 or the Consultancy Service Index. The independent appeal tribunal, quite separate from the executive, is a most important innovation.

Another welcome safeguard is the statutory limit on the length of time that someone's name can remain on the provisional list without that person having access to the tribunal. It is important, too, that access to the list is confined to those organisations with a legitimate need to know. My understanding is that these will consist only of those childcare organisations defined in the Bill, and other recognised businesses, whether incorporated or not. But it would be helpful if the Minister could clarify this issue when he comes to speak.

I should also be grateful if the Minister would reassure me, as well as the noble Lord, Lord Meston, that, in the opinion of the Government, the Bill complies fully with the requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights. Given the quasi-judicial nature of the proposed appeal mechanism, I would very much hope and expect that it does; but the issues are perhaps not completely straightforward.

One puzzle that I have is the apparent difference in emphasis between this Bill and the conclusions of the inter-departmental working group, which reported last December. The whole tenor of the group's report, it seemed to me, was to favour a system that was essentially voluntary and permissive; for example, in paragraph 5.32 the group says that it may not always be necessary for a prospective employer to check the list; and in paragraph 5.14 it thinks it is right for the decision on employment to rest with the employer in the light of the information provided by the check. In other words, it was not a case of saying that the inclusion of someone's name on either list should be an automatic bar to that person being employed—which is the stipulation in Clause 7(1) of the Bill. More generally the group specifically recommends at paragraph 4.6 a voluntary system apart from, a few areas which are required under existing provisions to make certain checks". As I say, I do not dissent from the thrust of the Bill as drafted but it is unclear to me why there has been this change of mind on the part of the Government.

One feature of the Bill that to me is less than satisfactory is the absence of any new criminal offence, as recommended by the interdepartmental group, of knowingly applying for or accepting work with children when deemed unsuitable for such work. Will the noble Lord, Lord Laming, comment on that and on the fact that the Bill includes no sanctions on childcare organisations that fail to comply with its provisions'? What sanctions are already available that could be deployed if required?

On a more practical note, can the Minister say when the Government intend to set up the Criminal Records Bureau? Can he also say how long it is likely to take for the Bill to come into force, assuming that it is enacted? In that context I am not at all clear how the Government see this Bill interrelating with their wider programme of social care reforms. Perhaps the Minister will say something about that.

It would be helpful too if we were to hear a little more about how the one-stop shop is intended to work, particularly during the period prior to the setting up of the Criminal Records Bureau. It is not entirely clear from my reading of the Bill whether, for example. a request by a school or LEA for a check against List 99 will automatically elicit a check against the other lists as well, including the lists that we understand will be established in Scotland; nor how it will be possible for that school to establish—in the absence of the Criminal Records Bureau—whether the individual concerned has a criminal record. Similarly I take it that only the relevant sections of List 99 will be checked in response to a request from, say, a childcare organisation that wishes to access that list and the Consultancy Service Index. In other words, am I correct in understanding that the proposal is not simply for a one-stop shop as ordinarily understood but for an automatic, comprehensive check against each list?

The concerns that I have on the Bill, which in the context of the whole are relatively minor, fall into two camps; the first being whether it contains all that it needs to in order to ensure that the safeguards for children work as intended; and the second being whether the safeguards for individuals are as secure and comprehensive as they ought to be. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Laming, will say that he has not closed his mind to the possibility of some improvements to the Bill if the case for them is convincingly made. Knowing him as I do, I would be surprised if he did not take that approach. The objective that we must all want to achieve is to create legislation that is durable and that commands general support. Bearing in mind the sensitivity of the issues which the Bill addresses, in my respectful opinion that objective can be achieved only by our focusing hard on the consequences that may flow from each part of the Bill and on ensuring that we are satisfied with them. I look forward to our further debates on these matters with much interest and to the speedy passage of the Bill through the House.

3.53 p.m.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Laming, on his initiative in bringing this Bill forward. As I believe all noble Lords will know, he has a long and distinguished career in the field of social services. I can think of no one in your Lordships' House who is more appropriate to bring this Bill forward. Like other noble Lords I wish to acknowledge the initiative of my honourable friend Debra Shipley MP. I am glad that she has been able to listen to our debate this afternoon.

We are all aware of the history in this country of official reports gathering dust on shelves. It is good that the noble Lord, Lord Warner, was able not only to speak in the debate but to encourage us to see through the implementation of one of the very important areas discussed in his report.

There is no doubt that this is a very important Bill. It aims to make significant advances in the way in which our society seeks to protect its most vulnerable members. My noble friends Lord Tomlinson and Lord Warner very much made that point. The noble Lord, Lord Rix, made the point that we need to keep carefully in mind the particular vulnerability of children with disabilities and learning difficulties as we take the Bill through its various stages in your Lordships' House.

It has been evident from the tone of the debate that your Lordships are fully seized of the Bill's significance and that there is a significant and perhaps unanimous degree of all-party support for the aims of the Bill. Understandably, there is also a very proper and welcome concern that the means should not ride roughshod over the rights of those individuals who might be identified for inclusion on either of the departmental lists, with all the consequences that can flow from such listing. As so often with legislation of this kind, the question is how best to strike the right balance, a point made by the noble Earl, Lord Howe. The need to be persuaded that it has been struck is there even where, as in this case, we are dealing with the very emotive subject of protecting children. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Howe, that our deliberations in Committee will be an appropriate point to tease out some of those issues.

The noble Lord, Lord Laming, has already given a very full explanation of the contents of the Bill. It will not be necessary for me to repeat what he has said. It is clear that he is concerned to ensure that the Bill's strong measures are matched by strong protections. No one will doubt that the changes made in the other place, which were described by the noble Lord, Lord Laming, have improved the balance of the Bill and have gone the distance to satisfy the doubts expressed in Committee.

I can confirm that the changes have been equally welcomed by the Government. The burden of administrating the Bill's proposals will fall upon the Government. It is no part of the Government's wish that the aims of the Bill should have doubt cast upon them because of well-founded reservations about the means by which those aims are to be achieved. That is one of the main reasons why we have been keeping a close eye on the human rights implications of the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Meston, and the noble Earl, Lord Howe, raised the matter of the European Convention on Human Rights. I shall now deal with that issue. As was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Meston, since this is a Private Member's Bill, Section 19 of the Human Rights Act 1998 does not apply; that is, there is no statutory requirement for it to be accompanied with a statement about compliance with the Convention. On the other hand, I appreciate that the House would expect some clear expression of view from the Government. On that basis, I am glad to be able to say that the Government believe that the Bill is fully compliant with the European Convention.

One of the key elements in the Bill is the provision for appeals against being placed on either Department of Health or Department for Education and Employment lists. It may be easy to underestimate just how far the Bill improves the present situation, in which, although both lists have been in existence for a long time, there has never in either case been any system of appeal, let alone to an entirely independent tribunal. For the very first time, it will become possible for people placed on the list to appeal against listing to an independent body appointed by the Lord Chancellor. Nor will the tribunal be concerned simply with looking again at what was before the Secretary of State when he made his decision. Rather, its task will be to examine the evidence afresh from the beginning so as to make its own decision. Subject only to appeal to the High Court on a point of law, the tribunal's decision will be final. Your Lordships may agree that that is as great a degree of independence for a tribunal as is necessary.

The House may also consider it helpful that the tribunal will, by virtue of the final paragraph of the schedule to the Bill, be subject to the oversight of the Council on Tribunals—a body whose own independence and the experience it has built up over a number of years have established it as one of the indispensable influences in raising and maintaining high procedural standards in tribunals generally.

A number of noble Lords asked about the Government's intention concerning the implementation of the Bill's proposals if the Bill is, as I very much hope, successful in this House. Although, as I have already said, the Government welcome the burdens placed upon them by this Bill, they are not light ones or ones that are easily discharged.

Setting up an entirely new tribunal will require the drawing up of the substantial detailed regulations forecast, not only in Clause 9 but also in respect of the Education Reform Act pursuant to Clause 6. In addition, the Lord Chancellor will be charged with making important appointments of legally qualified and other people with relevant experience to operate the tribunal. Elsewhere, not only will the Department of Health have to institute a new list under new rules, but it will also have to examine the 900 names on the present consultancy service index for possible transfer to that new list. Granted the right of appeal that will be available to individuals in these circumstances, it is evident that the tribunal will need to be up and running before the provisions of Clause 7 can be introduced. The one-stop shop itself cannot, of course, function until the criminal records bureau becomes operational.

On that basis, I hope it will be understood that it is not practicable at this juncture to give any firm estimate of when implementation can reasonably be expected. Indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Meston, suggested, one of the key practical issues in relation to the bureau relates to the need for appropriate IT services. In addition, a number of statutory orders will need to be made before the bureau can come into operation. There will also need to be consultation with various employers and other organisations to draw up codes of practice under the Act. That said, I know that colleagues in the government departments principally concerned are glad that the prospect of this project has been advanced by the Bill's promoters, and they will be determined to grasp the opportunity to gather in its benefits as soon as they can. We hope that the criminal records bureau will be in place by the end of the year 2000, with the one-stop shop being brought into operation at the same time. As regards the new Department of Health list, we hope that it will be operational by summer 2000.

The noble Lord, Lord Meston, asked about the organisations that would come to be covered by the Bill's provisions. As the House will know, for the purposes of the Bill a "child care organisation" is an organisation whose activities are in some way controlled or regulated by statute. So that definition would cover all local authority social services functions relating to children; all children's homes, whether local authority, voluntary or private; adoption and fostering services; nursing homes or mental nursing homes accommodating children; registered child minders; and NHS trusts providing certain services to children.

Other organisations which are not subject to statutory control but which provide services for children, such as the Scouts, the Cadet Force and youth clubs, while not being covered by the mandatory provisions of the Bill, will be able to refer names and carry out checks on a voluntary basis. I may add that they will be urged, in guidance to be issued later by the Department of Health, to do so and not to employ anyone whose name is on the list.

The noble Baroness, Lady David, asked when we can expect publication of the North Wales inquiry. That is a matter for the independent inquiry. However, my understanding is that publication is expected in the next few months.

The noble Baroness also suggested that this Bill is not completely comprehensive. That is absolutely right. It has to be seen as a building block. She mentioned issues to do with nannies and nanny agencies. It is true that nannies are not regulated under the Children Act 1989. The Government do not support the introduction of a national register for nannies.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, asked about the VOCS. She is absolutely right. That will be wound up when the one-stop shop is up and running simply because it will no longer be needed. The noble Baroness also asked for an assurance that sufficient resources would be made available to ensure that the new arrangements worked satisfactorily. As to the bureau, it will be self-financing. The Government have given a firm commitment to provide sufficient resources overall to make the Bill work well. As to the Department of Health, the additional manpower costs associated with increased activity within the department will be absorbed within current provision.

The noble Lord, Lord Meston, asked about the position of bus and taxi drivers. I refer him to DfEE regulations made last year which may be relevant. Parts of those regulations embrace staff employed by contractors and volunteers. The effect is that, if a school or local education authority contracts with a bus or taxi firm to provide transport for pupils, a check must be made of the drivers used by the company to ensure that they are not on the DfEE List 99. I hope that that meets his point.

The noble Lord also asked about Scotland and the British Isles generally. The interdepartmental working group to which the noble Lord, Lord Laming, referred is looking primarily at the establishment of an integrated scheme of protection for children in England and Wales. While I take the point made by the noble Lord, it will be considering the wider application of such a scheme to Scotland and Northern Ireland and will make recommendations on those issues. Representatives from Scotland and Northern Ireland are members of the working party, but we shall ensure that the noble Lord's points are put to them and considered. The noble Lord, Lord Meston, also asked about court welfare officers and whether they could check step-parents. They cannot. Step-parents would not fall within the employment definition in the Bill.

No doubt the noble Lord, Lord Laming, will wish to respond to other points that have been made. Perhaps I may finish by picking up the question raised by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, about how the one-stop shop would work. When someone applies to work with children, the employer will ask for checks to be carried out on List 99 and the DH list. The certificate issued which is to be sent to both the employer and applicant will record whether or not the applicant is included on either list.

In conclusion, it has been clear from the debate and the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Laming, that the Bill cannot cover every issue. But your Lordships are aware that the interdepartmental working group is considering many of the issues that have been raised, and certainly there is the potential to address them in future legislation. This Bill is both a desirable and necessary measure. I end by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Laming, on bringing forward the Bill, which I hope will commend itself to the House.

4.8 p.m.

Lord Laming

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords, including the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for this most interesting, instructive and very encouraging debate on this important Bill. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, for his very helpful response to the many points raised during the debate. I shall attempt to respond to a number of the points helpfully made by your Lordships. My experience in your Lordships' House is such that the very generous remarks made about me during the debate, however well intended, may prove to be ill founded. However, I shall do my best.

I was grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady David, for her indication of support for the Bill from the All-Party Children Group. I regard that as of great importance. I have been impressed by the support for the Bill from agencies outside Parliament involved in the provision of services for children. The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, referred to such agencies.

It is a complicated but important Bill. Therefore, I am sure that noble Lords will understand that, once enacted, it will be necessary for the department to produce detailed regulation and guidance. That will take some time. It will clarify in detail some of the definitions to which the noble Lord, Lord Meston, referred.

Earlier I expressed the hope that the noble Lord, Lord Warner, would arrive in time for the debate. I am grateful that he was able to be present to give us the benefit of his great experience, in particular as regards his excellent work on the report, Choosing with Care, which enabled the Bill to be better informed and therefore likely to be more effective. The noble Lords, Lord Warner and Lord Meston, referred to our growing understanding of the lengths to which some men will go to get close to children in order to abuse them. It is a salutary lesson. It is important that none of us is complacent. We need to recognise that somehow abusers always find ways to get round the existing safeguards. That is why we need to keep the matter under review, to learn from experience and to put that experience into practice. The continuing work on the subject of the inter-departmental working group is of great importance.

I was grateful that the noble Lord, Lord Warner, drew attention to the inclusion of employment agencies. With all his experience, the noble Lord, Lord Rix, made a helpful contribution on why mental impairment has been included. The noble Lords, Lord Rix and Lord Tomlinson, helpfully drew attention to the safeguards included. Several noble Lords drew attention to the need for balance in protecting the rights of individuals. The Bill is a considerable improvement not only as regards the protection of children, but also the rights of people who may be referred. A number of safeguards in the Bill are not currently in operation. It is important to recognise the balance achieved in the Bill.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, drew attention to the need to consider making it a criminal offence for those on the list to apply for a post involving care for children. It is comforting to know that that is a matter which continues to be addressed by the inter-departmental working party. I have no doubt that we shall return to that issue.

I support the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, on the staffing of the bureau. From the information I have received, I believe that the bureau will be substantially staffed. The commitment to make a success of this measure is so great that if it proves necessary to reconsider the matter I have no doubt that that will be undertaken.

I support strongly the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, to which I attach tremendous importance: that the protection of children from abuse is the responsibility of us all. The Government have a duty to set in place the framework. The Bill aims to achieve that. However, the responsibility remains with us all.

I took seriously the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Meston, about the reference to the one-stop-shop perhaps underestimating the important meaning of this one point of reference. That is important because the Bill is intended to ensure that the provision of the information which is available to all organisations which have responsibility for providing services for children will be both efficient and effective. We ought not in any way to give the impression that it is simply a routine checking procedure.

It is also important to emphasise that checking, important though it is, does not reduce the responsibility, duty and accountability that is placed upon management not only to follow the procedures, but also to be vigilant and courageous in challenging inappropriate behaviour in people's work with children.

For the first time, the Bill eliminates confusion about who is responsible for the checking in that it places the responsibility quite clearly upon the organisation, in particular if it is a statutory organisation. Furthermore, it provides non-statutory organisations which corporately provide services for children with a clear and efficient way of carrying out the checks.

It is clear that the duty to consult the list is covered by other legislation. I refer in particular to the responsibility which the Children Act places on all statutory organisations to promote the welfare of children. They cannot achieve that unless they fulfil their duties to employ people who are suitable and not to employ people who are unsuitable.

The noble Earl, Lord Howe, made a number of important points, including a justifiable and concerned point about blacklists. As I have indicated, the point is well taken by the introduction in the Bill of safeguards which are not currently in operation. I hope that that will provide an assurance.

It is true that no sanctions against childcare organisations are incorporated in the Bill. However, under other legislation, statutory bodies clearly have responsibilities. These issues will continue to be reviewed by the inter-departmental working party.

Finally, I emphasise to the noble Earl, Lord Howe, that the information provided will be that which is relevant to the person's suitability to work with children. That is one of the important safeguards provided in the Bill.

This has been an encouraging experience for me. It has also been an important learning experience. If I have failed to respond to important points made by your Lordships, I hope that I will be excused and allowed to do better next time. In the meantime, I commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.