Lord Adonis, is the unelected special advisor on Education and NuLabour political commissar, who thought up the controversial City Academies scheme (recently criticused for low educational achievements, massive subsidies by the taxpayer to private companies,and the scandal of heavy hints of a "cash for honours" policy for financial backers of scheme), who was ennobled and instantly became a Minister under the patronage of Prime Minister Tony Blair,
Lord Adonis has now introduced, in the House of Lords, Yet Another National Database Scheme, the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill 2006, and has signed off the usual Human Rights Act rubber stamp declaration at the start of the text of the Bill.
Some obvious questions should be asked about this Bill:
- The most serious question to be asked is where are the safeguards to prevent this sophisticated employment banning scheme, from being extended beyond sexual offenders, to, for example political or religious opponents of the Government ? There is nothing on the face of the Bill which explicitly says what types of conduct is deemed to be "harmful" to children or vulnerable adults.
It appears that a Minister will be able to designate, by Order, for example, decide that a particular religous sect or political party might cause "harm" to children or vulnerable adults.
However, as with the vague, catch all definition of "glorification of terrorism", there is no specific definition of "harm" under this Bill - How much "harm" ? Does this include Mental, Physical, Medical, Spiritual or Financial "harm" ?
Will divorced parents be accused of "harming the best interests" of their children and also get swept up by the vagueness of this Bill ?
Surely there should be a clear definition of "harm" written into the text of this Bill ?
- Why is this Bill called the Protection of Vulnerable Groups Bill, when it should be vulnerable Individuals who are protected ?
- Presumably the Bill is intended to apply to the people on the the various motley collection of lists and registers who are sexual offenders of some kind, some of whom are not automatically actually a danger to children e.g. those convicted of consensual underage sex whilst they themselves were teenagers, and which put the Education Minister Ruth Kelly under pressure to resign.
Remember, that there is no such thing as "the Sex Offenders Register" anymore. There is now a system called ViSOR, the Violent and Sexual Offenders Register.
There is a very real danger that this Bill will introduce a scheme which fails to "bar" people who pose a threat of violence to children or even to teachers, whilst concentrating on the sexual offender threat.
- What is the justification for Clause 14 Exception to requirement to make monitoring check ?
What is the reasoning and justification for any of the categories in 14 (1) to be exempt ?
Especially why are these categories in 14 (1) exempt ?
(b) he is responsible for the control or management of a prison;
(c) he is responsible for the control or management of the provision of a probation service;
There have been well recorded cases of abuse of vulnerable prisoners, and even of the sexual exploitation of juveniles in halfway houses run by the probation service etc.
Why exactly on earth are these being exempted from this legislation ?
Why should the power to
"(7) The Secretary of State may by order amend subsection (1) by inserting a paragraph or amending or omitting a paragraph for the time being contained
in the subsection."
- Does the hugely complicated list of National Health Service institutions in Clause 15 NHS Employment actually cover private sector "care homes" where violence and inappropriate medication is inflicted on vulnerable elderly peple, such as that highlighted
by the BUPA 7 whistleblowers ?
- It is all very well to have Clause 41 Damages
"Nothing in this Act affects section 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998 (c. 42) as it relates to the power of a court to award damages in respect of an unlawful act of a public authority (within the meaning of that Act)."
However that does not provide any legal remedy or compensation for the victims of false accusations, errors, or libels caused by Employers or Employment Providers, or Personnel Suppliers etc., which are not public authorities within the meaning of the Human Rights Act, and who have been acting negligently.
Clause 2 Barred lists subsection (6)
"(6) No claim for damages shall lie in respect of any loss or damage suffered by any person in consequence of— (a) the fact that an individual is included in a barred list; (b) the fact that an individual is not included in a barred list."
You can almost smell the "more than my job's worth" bureaucrats" washing their hands of any problems which false or missiing data will cause to an individual.
This clause must be removed from the Bill.
Given the devastating effect on individuals that errors or omissions from these "barring lists" will cause, full resposibility for errors must be accepted by Government Ministers i.e. they should resign if errors are made in so serious a matter, and an adequate compensation scheme for the victims should be introduced,
- Schedule 1 Independent barring Board seems to be the usual sort of Quango, designed to allow a "hands off approach" ro regulation and Ministerial resposibility i.e. a Minster can wash their hands of any bad decisions and can claim that they dhould not have to resign.
The by now familiar NuLabour trick of having this IBB only produce a single annual report, which it will present to the Minister and not directly to Parliament where it can be debated is in evidence.
If it gets established, there is no excuse for this Independent Barring Board from being excluded from Schedule 1 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, like other such alleged Commisioners who are supposed to audit or regulate intrusive Government legislation. There is no reason why this addition to this list of Public Authorities which fall under the Freedom of Information Act should not be done as one of the amendments in this Bill, rather than at the whim of the Department for Constitutional Affairs.
- Why does Schedule 3 Regulated activities include in subsection 2 (1) (e)
(e) moderating a public interactive communication service which is likely to be used wholly or mainly by children.
Exactly which internet or mobile or other telephone services does this apply to or not apply to ?
What if they are based in foreign countries, or employ "moderators" based overseas, even the the services are avialable in the UK ?
Is this meant to be some sort of "anti-grooming" measure ?
- Why is there no Regulatory Impact Assessment, and an estimate of the costs versus benefits of this Bill ?
- The planned "instant online barring list check" must surely affect the operations and finances of the Criminal Records Bureau. Where are the detailed plans for this ?
- Why is there no Privacy Impact Assessment ?
- Why hasn't this Bill been published in Draft form, and been preceded by a formal 12 week public consultation process and detailed pre-legislative scrutiny by a Parliamentary Committee with the power to call for evidence and witnesses ?
- Since the scheme does not appear to be set to start until 2008, and more likely it cannot work properly until IMPACT comes on stream fully in 2010, why can't this proposal for Yet Another National Database scheme be properly scrutinised in detail ?
What is the rush, apart from NuLabour's "we must appear to be seen to be doing something" attitude following the tabloid media feeding frenzy over Education Minister Ruth Kelly ?
To say that we are sceptical about the announcement (not part of the wording of this Bill), of an "instant online check" on a person's "barring status" which parents will be able to conduct, presumably via the internet, would be an huge understatement.
It should be obvious what the potential security and privacy dangers are, as pointed out by John Lettice in The Register, which links to our blog posting about the delays to the Police Information Management, Prioritisation, Analysis, Co-ordination and Tasking (IMPACT) system, which seems as if it will not now be complete until 2010, i.e. 3 years later than originally planned.
We would like to see, those people who are contemplating setting up this "instant online barring list check" in the UK, put in prison, if they ignore the lessons of the near disasters encountered by about a dozen different States in the USA , chronicled by MSNBC journalist Bob Sullivan in January 2001.
Many US states set up online Web based access to their Sex Offender Registers, in the wake of "Megan's Law", precisely for job employment vetting due diligence and also to allow the public to see if a registered sex offender was living near to them or to a local school etc., something which has been resisted on the grounds that it would, given the tabloid hysteria prevalent in the UK, be likely to lead to vigilante attacks. Like most Government departments, once the initial media panic was over, they neglected to upgrade their computer systems and keep them up to date with the latest security patches, and no fewer than 11 States had remotely exploitable (Microsoft UNICODE vulnerability) front end web servers, accepting queries from the public, and displaying the results from the allegedly secure back end database systems (some of which were also remotely exploitable via the internet as well).
The potential risk was that real sex offenders could have had any "hits" filtered out and not displayed to the public, or for the devastating libel and possible lynch mob consequences of an innocent person being falsely labelled as a sex offender, a tactic which had actually been discussed in various "anti-western / anti-USA" online discussion forums.
There have even been cases, since then, when these systems were allegedly tightened up, where the online Sex Offender Register was data mined as a source of "Identity Theft" details for financial frauds.
We have every reason to believe that any similar system in the UK would also suffer from exactly the same sort of problems.