Date: 23 June 2011
ISBN: Only available online
Committee: Health, Social Services and Public Safety
Contents of Report
- The Protection of Freedoms Bill 2011 was introduced at the House of Commons on 11 February 2011, the Second Reading was held on 1 March 2011 and the committee stage was completed on 17 May 2011.
- The Bill as introduced contained seven parts and was wide ranging in scope, including measures relating to the retention of fingerprints and DNA data, and a code of practice for surveillance camera systems, amongst other things.
- However, it is Part 5 of the Bill which is of relevance to the legislative consent motion. It will give effect to the recommendations of the review of the Vetting and Barring Scheme. The aim is to put in place a broadly consistent vetting and barring framework across the UK within similar timescales for the purposes of preventing any unsuitable person obtaining work or volunteering opportunities with children or vulnerable adults in any part of the UK.
- The previous Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety dealt with the first legislative consent motion relating to this Bill. It sought to extend to Northern Ireland the provisions dealing with the safeguarding of vulnerable groups contained in Chapter 1 of Part 5 of the Bill.
- The previous Committee took oral evidence from departmental officials on 17 February 2011 and 3 March 2011, as well as considering written correspondence from the NI Children’s Commissioner.
- The previous Committee was content with the first legislative consent motion, which was approved by the Assembly on 21 March 2011.
- The second legislative consent motion in relation to this Bill is required as a result of government amendments made to the Bill during committee stage at the House of Commons.
- The amendments made to the Bill provide for the establishment of a new body called the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS). The DBS will merge the functions of the Independent Safeguarding Authority, the Criminal Records Bureau, and some of the functions of the Secretary of State.
- In effect, the legislative consent motion will enable the DBS to undertake barring functions in Northern Ireland in terms of which individuals should be included on barred lists, on the basis that they have harmed a child or vulnerable adult.
- The Committee took evidence from the NI Children’s Commissioner and the NSPCC on the legislative consent motion on 8 June 2011. Both organisations supported the need for the legislative consent motion. The Committee then took oral evidence from departmental officials on 15 June 2011. The key issues of discussion were how the new arrangements would be implemented and how information would be shared on an East – West basis.
- Having considered the evidence, the Committee came to the view that it was essential that robust vetting and barring arrangements needed to be in place in line with those in England, Scotland and Wales. It therefore agreed to support the Department in seeking the Assembly’s endorsement of the legislative consent motion.
- In addition, as part of the discussions, the Committee was alerted to the fact that there are gaps in relation to the information shared between the PSNI and the Garda Síochána about individuals who may pose a risk to children and vulnerable adults but who have not been convicted of an offence. Furthermore, the Committee was concerned that conviction information is not currently shared between European Member States, with the exception of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. These are issues which the Committee intends to inquire into further in the wider context of child protection.