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Baroness Blatch: I rise to say that that was an incredibly powerful intervention from the noble Lord, Lord Brennan. There is not much difference between noble Lords on this matter. This evil trade in sex abuse crosses all countries' boundaries. If the sex offender's privacy is breached that is as nothing compared to the privacy of a child that is breached when the sex offence takes place. If the noble Lord, with his considerable skills, wants to devise amendments, I can offer full support. I believe that the Government will be receptive. A powerful case has been made and the hope is that the Government can reflect on the matter and that a consensus can be developed to find a way of using this Bill. It is a wonderfully opportune moment to do something very important for our children.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I shall endeavour to respond to both the last two interventions after I have put right something which I failed to mention earlier in introducing the government clauses.

I ought to have mentioned Scotland. The 1997 Act is a piece of legislation which pre-dates devolution. Amendments to the Act fall into a devolved area. The Scottish Executive have therefore had to consider carefully whether similar amendments should be introduced in the Scottish Parliament or at Westminster. The Executive concluded, after giving it careful consideration, that the best way to extend the protection of these measures as quickly as possible was to extend the Westminster Bill. That would maintain a common registration regime across the Border and avoid enforcement difficulties.

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As I am sure Members of the Committee are aware, under the civil convention the UK Government cannot normally legislate at Westminster for Scotland on devolved matters--that is quite right--and we certainly cannot do it without the consent of the Scottish Parliament. However, I am delighted to be able to inform the Committee that the Scottish Parliament will be debating this matter. We cannot table the necessary amendments before the agreement of the Scottish Parliament is forthcoming. But I can inform the Committee that we shall be bringing forward the necessary amendments as soon as possible if the Scottish Parliament agrees that approach. I hope Members of the Committee will be content for us to follow that course. It seems to be a logical and sensible one. We feel that a unified approach is wisest. The principle is simple and I hope that the late tabling of these amendments, if the Scottish Parliament agree to this, will not cause inconvenience to the House on this matter.

I turn if I may to the intervention of my noble friend Lord Brennan and the intervention in support by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, on Amendment No. 157A. I hope I indicated in my comments when I first came to the Dispatch Box on this subject that I was extremely sympathetic to the amendment. I am even more sympathetic to it having listened to my noble friend. Like him, I take these matters very seriously and feel that the view of the police is important. I am more than happy to give an undertaking this evening to take the amendment away and give consideration to each part of it. We should examine it carefully. If we can make it work, if it is practical--on the face of it it seems to be precisely that--then it is an amendment worthy of support, though there may be a requirement for some fine-tuning and further discussion, particularly with the police, to ensure that we get it right for them.

I am grateful for the support from the Benches opposite in this respect. I shall be happy to give that amendment careful consideration.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 144:

    After Clause 60, insert the following new clause--


(" .--(1) In this section--
"relevant sexual or violent offender" has the meaning given by section (Supplemental); and
"responsible authority", in relation to any area, means the chief officer of police and the local board for that area acting jointly.
(2) The responsible authority for each area must establish arrangements for the purpose of assessing and managing the risks posed in that area by--
(a) relevant sexual or violent offenders, and
(b) other persons who, by reason of offences committed by them (wherever committed), are considered by the responsible authority to be persons who may cause serious harm to the public.

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(3) The responsible authority for each area must keep the arrangements established by it under review with a view to monitoring their effectiveness and making any changes to them that appear necessary or expedient.
(4) As soon as practicable after the end of the period of 12 months beginning with the coming into force of this section and each subsequent period of 12 months, the responsible authority for each area must--
(a) prepare a report on the discharge by it during that period of the functions conferred by this section, and
(b) publish the report in that area.
(5) The report must include--
(a) details of the arrangements established by the responsible authority, and
(b) information of such descriptions as the Secretary of State has notified to the responsible authority that he wishes to be included in the report.
(6) The Secretary of State may issue guidance to responsible authorities on the discharge of the functions conferred by this section.").

The noble Lord said: The first clause in this group builds on arrangements already in place so that the responsible authority--that is, the chief officer of police and the local board, which includes the chief officer of probation--will have a joint duty to make arrangements for assessing and managing the risks posed by relevant sexual and violent offenders, or other offenders who may cause serious harm, and to keep those arrangements under review.

I am sure that Members of the Committee will be aware that the police and Probation Service already in practice make arrangements to manage such offenders. The purpose behind making this a statutory duty is to ensure there is consistency in all areas and also to promote good practice among the different areas. We are also requiring those authorities to prepare and publish at least every 12 months a report on how they have discharged the duties I have just described. As part of the report, they must give details of the arrangements which have been made and such information as the Secretary of State has notified to the authorities that he wants to include.

In addition, the Secretary of State will have the power to issue guidance to the authorities on how to discharge the functions under this clause. This guidance will cover important areas such as consultation with other organisations, including social services departments, child protection organisations and prisons, as appropriate in fulfilling these functions. It will also contain guidance on what the report to be issued should contain.

The purpose of these latter provisions is, I hope, self-evident. Events following the tragic death of Sarah Payne have shown that there is a great deal of public anxiety about, and apparently low levels of understanding of and confidence in, existing systems for managing former offenders in the community. We have discussed that at length today.

We want not only that these arrangements should be carried out but for the public to see them carried out. We are not proposing that details of particular offenders should be made available, but we are proposing that the public should be able to see what measures are being taken to protect them.

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The next new clause defines what is, for the purposes of the arrangements I have mentioned, a "relevant sexual or violent offender". We have tried to ensure that we catch all those who, by the very nature of the crime concerned or sentence, might present a real risk and threat to the public without requiring the authorities to be statutorily required to assess and manage every type of offender.

The main type of offenders classified under the clause as a "relevant sexual or violent offender" are those who are subject to the notification requirement under Part I of the Sex Offenders Act 1997; or sentenced to a term of imprisonment or some form of detention for 12 months or more; or detained at Her Majesty's pleasure or under a hospital order or guardianship order under the Mental Health Act 1983; or eligible for a disqualification order to be imposed to prevent them working with children under Clauses 27 and 28 of the Bill.

I appreciate that some of your Lordships might be concerned that this list, while attempting to be comprehensive, might not take into account all possible offenders who might present a risk for whatever reason. However, the previous clause requires the authorities to establish arrangements not just for "relevant sexual or violent offenders" but also for other persons who, by reason of the offences committed by them, are considered to be persons who may cause serious harm to the public.

Furthermore, nothing in these clauses takes away from the police their existing common law powers to take necessary action to protect the public or prevent and detect crime. In other words, they remain able to take appropriate action in respect of any person who they believe presents a danger, irrespective of any conviction or sentence. These two clauses are intended to put what the police and Probation Service do on a statutory footing to ensure that the public are protected from those who most clearly pose a threat to public safety and that the public are made aware that such steps are being taken. I beg to move.

11 p.m.

The Earl of Listowel: Having spoken with detective chief inspectors, in particular with one who has responsibility for sex offenders, I can say that there was a strongly expressed frustration about the assessment of sex offenders. It is difficult to monitor sex offenders. Monitoring in particular high-risk offenders is labour intensive and officers are kept busy around the clock. The main concern is that assessment must be effective in order that police forces are used effectively.

Can the Minister assure the Committee that the new arrangements will ensure a refined assessment of the risk posed by sex offenders so that the resources available are used in the most effective way possible? Perhaps that is too specific. Does the Minister regard this as an issue, and is he satisfied that it will be dealt with?

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