Scouts taking part in climbing. The association says: 'safety of our youth members is our number one priority'

Scouts taking part in climbing. The association says: 'safety of our youth members is our number one priority'

Outdoor bodies that were gearing up for a new child-protection regime next month are left pondering the future after the Government announced the scheme was being put on ice.

The Vetting and Barring Scheme was due to start on 26 July, but Home Secretary Theresa May today announced registrations under the new system were being halted. Plans for the scheme were at an advanced stage and organisations such as the British Mountaineering Council and Scouts now face uncertainty over their procedures.

Many outdoor leaders are required to have checks because they come into contact with children and vulnerable adults. The Vetting and Barring Scheme was meant to simplify some aspects of the process and was introduced in response to the Bichard Inquiry into the Soham murders by Ian Huntley which called for better information sharing by police and vetting organisations.

Home Secretary Theresa May said: “The safety of children and vulnerable adults is of paramount importance to the new government.

“However it is also vital that we take a measured approach in these matters. We’ve listened to the criticisms and will respond with a scheme that has been fundamentally remodelled.

Home Secretary Theresa May: vital that we take a measured approach. Photo: Home Office CC-BY-2.0

Home Secretary Theresa May: vital that we take a measured approach. Photo: Home Office [CC-2.0]

“Vulnerable groups must be properly protected in a way that is proportionate and sensible. This redrawing of the vetting and barring scheme will ensure this happens.”

The decision affects more than 66,000 employers, charities and voluntary groups, which are now being informed directly of the change.

Children’s Minister Tim Loughton said: “Protecting vulnerable children is a top priority. Any vetting system should not be a substitute for proper vigilance by individuals and society. At the moment we think the pendulum has swung too far.

“We shouldn’t be driving a wedge between children and well-meaning adults including people coming forward to volunteer with young people. Such individuals should be welcomed, encouraged, and helped as much as possible, unless it can be shown that children would not be safe in their care.”

The Home Office stressed that Independent Safeguarding Authority will continue to maintain two constantly updated lists, one for those barred from working with children, the other for those barred from working with vulnerable adults, and the Criminal Records Bureau and Access Northern Ireland checks will remain in place, and those entitled to such checks can continue to apply for them.

In addition, employers are still legally obliged to refer information to the ISA if they have moved or removed an individual because they have harmed or there is a risk of harm to a member of a vulnerable group.

Nick Colton of the BMC said his organisation, representing 70,000 climbers, hillwalkers and mountaineers, works with the National Society for the Protection of Children’s Child Protection in Sport Unit for guidance on policies for affiliated clubs. “The CRB check is non-portable and the VBS was due to overcome that problem,” he said. In the light of the Home Office decision, the BMC is waiting for guidance from the NSPCC’s CPSU and he said clubs should wait until that guidance is received.

The Scout Association, which has 61,000 adult volunteers leading a range of outdoor activities for its 360,000 young members aged between six and 25, also said the ability to make Criminal Records Bureau checks portable would have been helpful.

Simon Carter of the association said: “The safety of our youth members is our number one priority.

“Many aspects of the planned VBS scheme make it easier and safer for adults to carry out voluntary work with young people, for example the portability of registration of adults between organisations.

“We would welcome discussions with the relevant government departments that streamline the process for volunteers working with young people while ensuring the safety of young people remains paramount.

“Regardless of any change that may be made to the VBS and the Independent Safeguarding Authority the disclosure arrangements of the CRB continue unchanged.

“Should there be any substantive change to proposed or current government arrangements, we will update our membership accordingly.”

The Government said discussions between the Home Office, Department for Education and Department of Health would take place to look at the future of the Vetting and Barring Scheme.

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