HL Deb 04 June 1998 vol 590 cc50-2WA
Baroness Young of Old Scone

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they are taking to prevent sex offenders from being employed in occupations with access to children and to prevent children being abused by people who are in a position of trust over them. [HL2136]

Lord Williams of Mostyn

There are a number of statutory safeguards already in place. Criminal record checks are available on people working in the statutory sector where they have substantial unsupervised access to children. They are also available on teachers in the private and voluntary sectors. The Police Act 1997 contains provisions which will widen access to criminal record checks when they are implemented. The Sex Offenders Act 1997 imposes a requirement on those convicted or cautioned for sex offences against children and other serious sex offences to notify the police of their name and address and any changes to these. This allows the police to monitor sex offenders in the community and to take action where appropriate to warn potential employers of any risk they might present. The Government have made it clear that such information must not just sit on a computer or gather dust on a file, and the Police and Probation Services have responded positively and responsibly in using this information for the protection of children and vulnerable adults, as intended.

The Government are also introducing sex offender orders in the Crime and Disorder Bill [H.L.] which will apply to sex offenders if their behaviour indicates a possible threat to the public. The courts will be able to make an order to impose prohibitions necessary to protect the community.

There are also a number of other measures in place to prevent those considered unsuitable to work with children from gaining employment with them. The Department for Education and Employment maintains "List 99", which contains information about people the Secretary of State has barred from working in schools; the Department of Health operates a Consultancy Service Index which enables local authorities and private and voluntary childcare organisations in England and Wales to check on suitability of those they propose to employ; and many professional bodies have codes of conduct which set out members' responsibilities in this area and provide for disciplinary action to be taken when these codes are breached.

We are concerned that these safeguards are not fully integrated and that there is a need for a more streamlined approach to ensure that there are no loopholes. For this reason, the Government are setting up an interdepartmental working group of officials to consider additional safeguards to prevent those who are unsuitable from working with children, including the possibility of a central register backed up by a new criminal offence to prevent those on the register applying for work with children. In looking at this subject, the group will draw upon the consultation exercise Sex Offenders: A Ban on Working with Children; and on recommendations made in the report of Sir William Utting's review of safeguards for children living away from home (particularly those recommendations dealing with choosing the right staff) and the Government's response to this review, which is expected to be published by the Ministerial Task Force on the Children's Safeguards Review in the summer. The group will also consider whether further measures are necessary to protect 16 and 17 year-olds who may be vulnerable to abuse by those in a position of trust, such as carers, teachers and leaders of organised residential activities. It is expected that the group will make its final recommendations to Ministers by the end of the year.