Draft Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) (Amendment) Order 2001

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Mr. Bercow: I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold for making that point. I do not think so. I am thinking on my feet, but I would be interested to know what the Minister and others think about the matter. I understand why my hon. Friend is concerned. A cultural change has taken place in society, and most people now regard certain traffic offences more seriously.

My hon. Friend did not posit the particular, but I am minded to envisage a scenario in which someone has committed a fairly serious traffic offence such as dangerous or reckless driving or even an offence of drunk driving that has not attracted a custodial sentence. If such an individual is currently obliged only to disclose the fact of that conviction for a limited period, after which it is considered spent—which may not apply in a criminal case but could in a serious civil case—that individual could go on to work with children, and may even be employed driving cars containing children. Should not the organisation employing the individual who is providing the service to children who, to judge by precedent, might be put at risk by his or her reckless, dangerous or incompetent driving, be entitled to know the track record in advance, and make a judgment about whether such an individual should be employed? Alternatively, the judgment could be that such an individual may be employed, but not in a capacity that would admit of such a potential scenario.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I am grateful to my hon. Friend because he makes the point far more eruditely than I could. The type of individual to which he refers is precisely one that would employ a clever barrister or solicitor to argue in court that the period of disqualification should be shorter than it might otherwise be because the individual needed a licence for his or her job. In precisely such an instance, the period of disqualification is inappropriate.

Mr. Bercow: I think that my hon. Friend is suggesting that a longer period of disqualification would be appropriate and I have some sympathy with that view. We must be mindful of the circumstance—I make an overall evaluative point—in which someone feels able to hire the services of an expensive lawyer. That is not an uncommon practice; indeed, we see it happening all around us.

Mr. Charles Clarke: I shall respond in detail to the points raised in my reply to the debate, but would the hon. Gentleman agree that the phrase ``a clever barrister'' used by the hon. Member for Cotswold is an oxymoron?

Mr. Bercow: I am grateful to the Minister for that comment and I am tempted to agree. Rather than specifically endorsing his point, I shall repeat what I have often said—it is on the record and I am not ashamed of it—I am not a lawyer and I say that as a matter of pride. There are quite enough lawyers in this place, and we can argue the toss about the respective merits of the barristers or solicitors in the House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold made a good point upon which he may wish to expatiate himself at a later stage in the proceedings. I imagine that he may be tempted so to do. I look forward to his contribution, as I am sure that you do, Mrs. Roe, with eager anticipation, bated breath and beads of sweat upon my brow.

I move on to question 12. It is now hotting up as they say in the classics. I make a fundamental point about which the Minister did not say anything. He will know that in June 1996, the previous Government published a White Paper. I hope that the Minister is attending to this point because it is important. The White Paper was entitled ``On the Record: The Government's Proposals for Access to Criminal Records for Employment and Related Purposes in England and Wales'', Cm 3008, part VII. It announced a number of proposals for changing the arrangements governing the disclosure of criminal records. As the Minister will be aware, provisions designed to bring about those changes are set out in part V of the Police Act 1997, with which I feel sure that all Committee members are intensely familiar. Those provisions have yet to be brought into force. Will the Minister confirm that he expects the provisions of that Act to be given effect this year? Committee members can refer only to each other, but I have a sense that the Minister has received guidance, from which he and Committee members in general will benefit. Will those provisions come into effect this year? If not, when does he anticipate that they will come into effect?

In relation to question 13, the Minister will also be aware that the White Paper announced that the list of exceptions to the 1974 Act would be amended to bring it into line with the list of occupations for which a criminal record certificate revealing spent and unspent convictions could be issued. The Home Office has since consulted on that list, which is right and proper—I do not cavil at that.

In a written answer to a question from the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) on 9 July 1997, which, if my memory serves me correctly, was a Wednesday, the then Home Office Minister, the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) said that he expected to lay a new exceptions order before the House by the end of that year. It would be intended to replace the 1975 order, rationalise the present categories of exceptions and include those new ones that met a number of criteria. Those criteria are national security, the protection of vulnerable members of society such as the handicapped, the elderly, the young or the sick, maintaining confidence—all of which are important and justified criteria—in the administration of the law and certain licensing systems, and ensuring probity in areas of banking and financial services, because, as the Minister will know, the order contains references to financial services, fraud and related matters.

How much consultation took place? When was the decision taken not to replace the 1975 order but to amend it? How does the proposed amendment differ in scale or likely effect from previous amendments? What rationalisation will be achieved by the proposed amendment? As I understand it, those questions were part of the answer—in intent, if not in word—given by the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth on 9 July 1997. I am simply using that as a yardstick against which to judge what has since transpired.

Rolling up all of that into question 13 was a little cheeky. I hope that nobody will hold it against me, but, if truth be told, I probably had a slightly larger ration of questions than the figure 13 suggested.

Mr. Charles Clarke: Lucky for some.

Mr. Bercow: Lucky for some, as the Minister rightly observes.

Paragraph 14 of part II of schedule 1 refers to office or employment concerned with the provision to persons aged under 18 of accommodation, care, leisure and recreational facilities and so on, in relation to which the provider would ordinarily have access to such persons. I am not criticising the Minister, but is that category not sufficiently widely drawn—notwithstanding what the Minister said in his explanation of his proposed amendments—to encompass proprietors or employees of adoption agencies? That is a sensitive subject, and I would be grateful if the Minister would explain the Government's thinking on the matter.

On question 15, in the light of the some of the appalling cases of recent years, the proposed exception from the 1974 Act will enjoy widespread support. Who did the Minister consult and what assessment has he made of the number of people who have effectively slipped through the net and obtained employment caring for children who might otherwise not have done so?

My sixteenth question relates to article 3(b), which amends article 2 of the Exceptions Order on the definitions of child minding under section 71 of the Children Act 1989 and section 79 of the Care Standards Act 2000. Will the Minister explain for my benefit and that of other members of the Committee the difference in the definitions and say when the latter Act comes into force? My seventeenth question relates also the proposed amendment of article 2. What is the significance of article 3(c)(b) and why is that form of words required?

I move on speedily and with enthusiasm to question 18 and the proposed amendment to article 3 and the Government's proposed insertion after paragraph (d). Why is there a reference to the person questioned being informed of the need to disclose convictions? I am being hyper-quizzical, but it is the responsibility of the Opposition so to be. Would the provisions of the order be nullified or vitiated if that were not to happen? If not, what would be the amendment's significance in practice? The same applies to paragraph (f).

I come now to question 18 and the proposed amendment to article 4.

Mr. Clarke: It is question 19.

Mr. Bercow: Two queries were listed under question 18. I apologise for wrongly numbering my questions.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: There are probably parts (a) and (b) to my hon. Friend's question, so his numbering is correct.

Mr. Bercow: I have been well and truly rescued, not for the first time and I know that it will not be the last. I have not always been all that friendly in what I have said about Government and Opposition Whips, but my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold is a deuced good sort. He always helps me out when I get into difficulty and I am much obliged to him for his helpful intervention.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: It is the job of the Whips.

Mr. Bercow: It is one of the jobs of the Whips to stop Front-Bench spokesmen getting into a mess or to retrieve them from the manure into which they have sunk, but Whips have many other responsibilities that they discharge with great skill, efficiency, dedication and natural kindness as you know, Mrs. Roe.

I now move on to question 19. What is the rationale behind the proposed amendment of article 4? As for question 20 and the proposed amendment of schedule 1, what are the grounds for the insertion of the word ``work''? I accept that that has been largely covered by the Minister, but if he wants to add anything, that is fine with me. However, in fairness, that question was drafted before his presentation to the Committee as were my other questions.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold would have us believe that my next question is still question 20 because of there being two parts to the earlier question, but I am happy for the purposes of our proceedings to regard it as question 21. The Committee notes the intention to include justices' chief executives. The Minister said something about that earlier. However, while I accept the advantage point from the Government are approaching the matter, has there been thus far a practical consequence of their exclusion? If so, what has it been or is it merely a case of prudently guarding against a possible future lacuna?

Question 22 concerns whether the exception will apply to all magistrates. I am not clear about that. I am sure that the Minister will be advised about that, if he has not been so already.

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