All 1 Debates between Baroness D'Souza and Lord Bichard

Protection of Freedoms Bill

Debate between Baroness D'Souza and Lord Bichard
Monday 6th February 2012

(12 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Bichard Portrait Lord Bichard
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My Lords, I shall also speak to Amendments 53 and 54 in my name and in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, who has kindly allowed me to lead on this issue. Everyone in this House understands that one of the most difficult responsibilities for any Government is to manage risk, whether that risk is the security of our nation or the safety of the most vulnerable members of our society. It is one of the most difficult responsibilities because very few risks of any significance can be entirely eliminated, and decisions must therefore be made about what is an acceptable—sometimes an unavoidable—level of risk, and what action is proportionate in seeking to minimise that risk.

That is why I emphasised two things when I published my report on the deaths of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman at the hands of Ian Huntley in Soham: first, that we cannot create a risk-free society; secondly, that the steps we take to minimise risk should be proportionate. For those reasons, I very much sympathise with and support the Government in seeking to strike the right balance in this very difficult area. Some reduction in the level of bureaucracy associated with vetting and barring is necessary and achievable, and I welcome the Government’s attempts to do so. However, I cannot agree that these clauses strike the right balance, even with the amendments tabled by the Minister or by other noble Lords in this House. That is why I am moving this amendment.

To be clear, these clauses relate to those who train, supervise, teach or instruct children outside a specified place, such as a school or a children’s home, or to those who are unpaid volunteers in whatever setting. In such circumstances, a person will not in future need to be CRB checked if they are under the supervision of another person who is engaging in a regulated activity and is therefore subject to CRB checks. We can, and probably will, debate how close or intensive that supervision should be. My contention, inconvenient though it may be for those of us who want to reduce the level of bureaucracy, is that no amount or quality of supervision can be sufficient to prevent someone developing a bond of trust with a child that he or she can then exploit at a time when they are free of that supervision. That is how grooming takes place.

The internet provides enhanced opportunities for the bond of trust, once established, to be inappropriately exploited. Therefore, the focus of our concerns should be not on the quality, intensity or nature of the supervision but on whether the person involved in training, instruction, teaching or supervision presents a risk to the child. They should therefore continue to be subject to checks that can help establish whether they are a risk to children. This will hold out some hope that we can prevent them gaining privileged access to children.

We know that checks cannot be foolproof, but surely we owe it to our children to take reasonable and quite simple steps to prevent those whom we know are a risk from gaining privileged access to children, even if they are subject to supervision. They must do that because children assume that adults who are trusted to offer guidance or instruction to them can be trusted—not just in limited circumstances such as the youth centre or playing field but wherever they are encountered. That is why supervision can never be enough, and why sometimes we have to place the safety of our children before our desire to minimise regulation and bureaucracy. I hope that that is what we will do this evening. If we do not, I fear that we will very quickly find that dangerous adults will realise that there are some settings and some ways in which it will be easier in future for them to gain access to vulnerable children. The people we are talking about are manipulative and clever. They will take advantage of those opportunities.

Finally, I hope that the Minister will at least be able to confirm this evening that the Act will do nothing to prevent organisations, with their local knowledge, making checks where they think they are required. For example, a school with its local knowledge will be able to carry on checking volunteers if it believes that that is necessary and good practice. I beg to move.

Baroness D'Souza Portrait The Lord Speaker (Baroness D'Souza)
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My Lords, I should advise the House that if Amendment 50 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments 50A and 51 for reasons of pre-emption.