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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath moved Amendment No. 19:

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath moved Amendment No. 20:

    Page 6, line 2, at end insert--

("( ) Subsections (3) and (4) apply in relation to an inquiry under section 35 of the Government of Wales Act 1998 into any matter relevant to the exercise of the Assembly's registration functions as they apply in relation to an inquiry under this section.
( ) In this section "registration functions" means functions under this Act in connection with the registration of persons in respect of establishments and agencies.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

28 Mar 2000 : Column 700

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath moved Amendment No. 21:

    Page 6, line 2, at end insert--

("( ) The report of the person who held the inquiry shall, unless the Minister who caused the inquiry to be held considers that it would be inappropriate to publish it, be published in a manner which that Minister considers appropriate.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, during Committee stage, the noble Lord, Lord Laming, put down an amendment that would require the Secretary of State to publish the reports of inquiries held under Clause 9 of the Bill. He said that the findings of inquiries should be public documents as a matter of good practice. I have considered these arguments carefully and I believe that there is merit in them.

The Government are committed to the principles of public accountability and freedom of information. We accept that it is good practice for reports commissioned by Ministers to be published. We believe that the public have a right to be kept informed about the services that are provided or purchased through public funds. I am therefore pleased to bring this amendment before your Lordships today. It will require the Government to publish the reports of inquiries held into any of the regulated services, or into the way the commission has carried out its functions, unless there is a good reason not do so. In other words, the onus will be on the Government to publish inquiry reports and the clear expectation is that they would normally publish those reports except in exceptional circumstances. The kind of exceptional circumstances that we envisage are, for example, where the publication of the report might prejudice ongoing criminal investigations or proceedings. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 10 [Requirement to register]:

[Amendment No. 22 not moved.]

Clause 12 [Grant or refusal of registration]:

Lord Rix moved Amendment No. 23:

    Page 6, line 42, leave out ("(2)") and insert ("(1A)").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, my recollection of Latin unseens in long-distant school days is that the second attempt was sometimes further from acceptability than the first. Certainly, it was with me. However, nil desperandum. My amendment is a variant on the one I tried a little half-heartedly at Committee stage, and owes something to a conversation with the Minister--although I have no promise of acceptance.

It seems to me natural logic that the body charged with granting or withholding registration should equip itself with all the accessible information before making up its mind. That information includes what interested parties have to say; and they will of course say nothing unless they are offered the opportunity to comment. Sometimes that information will encourage the registration authority to make further inquiries, or to refuse a registration. Sometimes it will prompt more careful monitoring after registration has been granted. Whatever the outcome, consultation on a selective basis offers better protection for vulnerable service users; and that is what I seek with my Amendments Nos. 23 and 24, which I believe avoid the NIMBY-type

28 Mar 2000 : Column 701

reactions feared by the Minister or, again recalling my Latin, if your Lordships prefer a classical substitute for NIMBY, and remembering my rusty Ovid of long ago: Procul Omen Abesto!--"far from us the omen"--does sound a little more dignified than "not in my back yard". I beg to move.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord might prefer another line of Ovid: Odi profanum vulgus et arceo--I hate the vulgar crowd and I keep them at a distance!

Earl Howe: My Lords, with the leave of the House, that was Horace and not Ovid.

Lord Addington: My Lords, the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Rix, appears to adopt the very reasonable concept that those who are concerned with these services should be consulted. I shall not follow the classical quotations--I have zero knowledge of them--which is perhaps just as well seeing how easy it is to fall into a trap. The basic concept of the noble Lord, Lord Rix, appears to be sound, and I shall listen with interest to the response of the Minister.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I was made to give up Latin after one year. Like the noble Lord, Lord Addington, I was rather lost by the previous exchange.

Essentially, these amendments would require the commission to consult relevant local bodies before granting an application for registration. I have difficulty in accepting the amendments. First, there is a practical problem. It may be easy enough to find out about local branches of well-known national bodies, such as Mencap, Age Concern or Scope, but there are plenty of small local self-help groups and action groups which would not be affiliated to a national body. The commission could not be expected to know about all of them. If we accepted the amendment, a local group might well seek to mount a challenge against a decision by the commission on the basis that it had not been consulted; nor is it clear what "local" means in these circumstances.

I understand that one of the main concerns of the noble Lord in moving the amendment is the requirement that the applicant must be a fit person, which is very important. However, in arriving at that decision the commission will be able to take account only of hard evidence, such as a criminal record or a listing under the Protection of Children Act. A local body may have concerns about a person; for example, it may be aware of rumours and unsubstantiated allegations. However, I do not believe that in those circumstances it would be appropriate for the commission to refuse registration on the strength of such unsubstantiated allegations. The commission would have to proceed on the basis of proper evidence. Although I am sympathetic to the amendments, I do not believe that it is right to accept them.

28 Mar 2000 : Column 702

Lord Rix: My Lords, obviously I am disappointed, but the response is not unexpected. I am aware that the Minister has doubts about the practicality of the amendment. On the other hand, perhaps he will take the matter away and think about it between now and next Tuesday when the Bill receives its Third Reading. It may be possible to find wording which at least allows further filtering for the purposes of a person's suitability before registration is granted. I recognise that rumour, bad-mouthing and all manner of unpleasant things may be said about people in local communities. However, often there is no smoke without fire. I have in mind a number of people whom I would not consider to be suitable persons although I cannot pin anything on them, whether it be a criminal record or whatever. One just knows that they are not suitable persons to receive registration. If the Minister is prepared to give further consideration to the amendment and to deal with the matter either on the face of the Bill or in regulations, I shall be happy to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I accept the invitation to look at it again. However, I cannot hold out much hope. While we shall make regulations in relation to determining the fitness of a person to work at an establishment, or for the purposes of carrying on or managing such an establishment, there are real difficulties in dealing with matters such as criminal records, listings under the Protection of Children Act, and the protection of vulnerable adults.

Lord Rix: My Lords, knowing that the Minister will look at this again, and no doubt write to me with his conclusions, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 24 not moved.]

Clause 19 [Urgent procedure for cancellation etc.]:

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath moved Amendment No. 25:

    Page 10, line 27, leave out ("if the registration authority thinks appropriate,").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 25 was tabled at Committee stage. I confess that when I was asked to justify the qualification,

    "if the registration authority thinks appropriate",

in relation to a health authority, I was hard put to find any. Therefore, I am happy to table this amendment today. I beg to move.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, I simply register my thanks to the Minister for tabling this amendment which clearly meets the point made in Committee. I am sure that the NHS Confederation and others will be duly grateful to the Minister.

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