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

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Mr. Bercow: The Minister first said that all my questions were interesting.

Mr. Clarke: No, I did not say that they were all interesting; I said that one or two of them were interesting.

Mr. Bercow: For the record, the Minister said that they were interesting and complex. He said, ``On the interesting and complex list of questions that the hon. Gentleman put, one or two of which were of interest.'' He ought to clarify his position. He said that the list was interesting, then that only a couple of the questions were interesting. He should sort himself out.

Mr. Clarke: I do not want to follow the hon. Gentleman down a logical train that would take up so much time that I could not answer the questions that I put. The fact is that his putting that list of questions was of itself interesting; the list was interesting because it contained so many questions that were not within the remit of the order, or not of great interest. However, the list included a number of questions that were of interest. There is a difference between the interest or lack of interest in a list and the interest or lack of interest of a particular question.

The hon. Gentleman asked first of all how many changes there had been. Although we have not had time to check the point since he asked the question, we believe that amendments have been introduced four times, principally to take into account other changes to primary legislation. That is why the matter is before the Committee today. For example, we must cater for osteopaths and chiropractors, as the law has moved forward.

The hon. Gentlemen's next bulk of questions were about the general process and how many requests had been received from whom. I must tell him the process. We keep the exceptions order under constant review. Specific changes are primarily triggered by changes in other areas of primary legislation. Requests for amendments may come from outside Government or from other Government Departments, and such requests are considered and discussed. That is the right way to proceed. As I mentioned in my introductory remarks, the whole process is under review, and this represents the first of a series of amendments. We decided that it was important not to delay the order because the legislation that it affects is in place. Other orders will follow later. We do not have information about people slipping through the net, although such information would provide the precise stimulus for legislative change on this matter.

I accept the hon. Gentleman's interesting and profound point that there may be a case for the rationalisation and codification of the process, as I have said to the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) in various debates in Committee. The Committee will be delighted that the CJ2010 document that the Government published about a month ago sets out the ambition of a codification of the law which would make the process more open and effective in the way that the hon. Member for Buckingham agrees with. I hope that we can rely on the official Opposition to support the Government's policies on this matter.

Mr. Bercow: We support the intention, although the Minister will accept that we must wait for details before committing to our support or opposition.

Will the Minister clarify whether the rationalisation that he envisages is what the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth had in mind in his answer of 9 July 1997? Will the Minister confirm that the revised order, which the right hon. Gentleman envisaged coming forward by the end of 1997, is the order that we are currently considering?

Mr. Clarke: My right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth is one of the most foresighted and forward-looking hon. Members in the House. I am confident that the process that he envisaged in July 1997 is being introduced in this period and set of legislation. That is a tribute to the way that he operates.

Any person who provides heath care services and has access to people who receive such services is covered by the order. Therefore, practising orthodontists are covered. Any person employed in a school is covered, including all teachers. England and Wales do not have a system of registered teachers, hence the different drafting. Trainee teachers would be covered by the regulated position definition when they enter a school to work, even if they are still in training.

Professions that are covered by the legislation include doctor, barrister, solicitor, chartered and certified accountant, dentist, dental hygienist, dental auxiliary, vet, nurse, midwife, ophthalmic optician, dispensing optician, chemist, registered teacher in Scotland—that is the point that I have just made—osteopath and chiropractor. A range of professions is covered and we are prepared to consider others as the situation develops.

The hon. Member for Buckingham asked who, in the criminal justice system, was exempted from the regulations, and we discussed jurors and magistrates. I said that I would look at that question and deal with it directly.

In respect of the implementation of the Police Act 1997, the Criminal Records Bureau will, we believe, formally receive applications for registration in May. We expect higher-level certificates to be issued in autumn.

Mr. Bercow: The Minister has helpfully given us a list of the categories that are covered and has made reference to the protection of children, which is central to the order. Will the Minister confirm that professional sports instructors who operate outside schools—perhaps outside school hours—in such establishments as private clubs are covered by the legislation? Is it incumbent upon a club to notify a prospective employee of his or her obligation to divulge past convictions? Although that may be necessary, it would impose a significant burden on a private club because it would have to become familiar with the Act and the order.

Mr. Clarke: The process has been considered fully. The short answer to his questions is yes and yes. That is why the Criminal Records Bureau has held a range of seminars throughout the country although I understand that it has now completed its national set. It held discussions with voluntary organisation and private organisations that employ people who work with children and others. Obligations under the regulations and how the regulations will operate were discussed with such organisations. It is a universal system on which the Police Act 1997 was predicated and which the criminal records bureau is based on.

There is no difference between the two definitions of child minding mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, but a change in the regulations would apply. New provisions come into force in July. He raised other questions about the meaning of work that I think I dealt with in my introduction. Work covers those working in certain areas irrespective of their former employment status, which includes volunteers.

I mis-stated the position of magistrates earlier on. Magistrates are covered under paragraph 1 of part II of schedule 1. When I was talking earlier I had jurors whizzing round my mind. That does not detract from what I told the hon. Gentleman earlier, but I will examine the implications in terms of the criminal justice system.

The hon. Gentleman raised the question of regulated position, which is the position listed in the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act, as those from which a person disqualified from working with children is prohibited. It is also the definition of a child-care position in the Protection of Children Act 1999. It is important that the policy of working with children is consistent with the ability to ask exempted questions and the definition of regulated position was considered carefully last year. The balance between protection and rights, to which I referred in an answer to the hon. Member for Cotswold, was an important part of that issue.

Further education institutions include places that provide full-time and part-time education in the ways that I described earlier in answer to the hon. Member for Taunton.

Some of the questions raised are wider than the order. I will sweep up any questions that I may not have answered in the complicated list. I will need to think about the position of traffic wardens. They would not routinely be working with children, but may do in certain circumstances.

The hon. Member for Cotswold raised the question of reckless drivers.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: The Minister mentions traffic wardens. I have given the list to Hansard so I cannot check it, but I understand that traffic wardens are covered.

Mr. Clarke: I shall come back to the hon. Gentleman on that matter.

I think we have dealt with the matter of consultation and the occupations on the list.

On the issues that have arisen regarding access to young people and the proprieties of employees of adoption agencies, the key issue is access to young people.

I have dealt with the question of child minding and the rationale of work. I am not aware of any particular problems regarding the practical consequences of the exclusion of justices' chief executives, although the order was not constructed on the proposition that particular offences are committed by particular groups. If that were the case, and certain groups were not covered, that would be a stimulus to further orders.

Finally, I am advised that traffic wardens are covered.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: My intervention to correct the Minister deflected him from what he was about to say about the period of disqualification in traffic offences. In view of the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham, will he comment on the matter?

Mr. Clarke: I shall not say anything further. I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is making, and the position of drivers in such circumstances is relevant, but I will not make further comment in Committee. We have dealt with the various issues fully.

Mr. Bercow: I am grateful to the Minister, and I understand his desire to keep within the confines of the Committee's responsibility, and you, Mrs. Roe, will ensure that we do too. Further to what my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold said, will the Minister tell us whether the Government will make a statement on the subject in the weeks or months ahead, or, on internal reflection within the Department will he consider writing to my hon. Friend, to me, or to other members of the Committee about this important subject?

Mr. Clarke: I will certainly consider that. I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he is seeking, as I will in the case of the criminal justice system. With that, I commend the statutory instrument to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) (Amendment) Order 2001—[Mr. Charles Clarke.]

        Committee rose at two minutes to Twelve o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Roe, Mrs. Marion (Chairman)
Ballard, Jackie
Bercow, Mr.
Best, Mr.
Clarke, Mr. Charles
Clifton-Brown, Mr.
Grogan, Mr.
Hall, Mr. Mike
Horam, Mr.
Jones, Mr. Jon Owen
Mudie, Mr.
Smith, Angela
Smith, Mr. Llew

The following Member also attended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(2):

Pickthall, Mr. Colin (West Lancashire)

 
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