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Baroness Blatch: I do not believe that I am the only Member of the Committee who is rather dismayed by the Minister's remarks. If the intention of placing a document in the Library of the House is to inform debate on the issue, none of us knew about it until this moment. We have had no opportunity to read the document that has been placed in the Library and debate on this part of the Bill will be complete by the end of today.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I undertook to place a copy of the guidance in the Library of the House at the earliest possible moment so that debate at later stages of the Bill would be more complete. I raise the matter this afternoon as a matter of courtesy to the Committee. I apologise for the fact that the noble
Lord Bassam of Brighton: The guidance which relates to Part II of the Bill is a preliminary draft, not a finished document. It is hoped that it will enable people to have a better understanding of the proposed penalties for possession of child pornography. One would have thought that that would be a helpful step to take. I hope that the noble Lord finds the document a constructive and helpful read.
Baroness Blatch: My point is that it would have been helpful if Members of the Committee had been able to see it when it was deposited. Can the Minister tell the Committee when the document was deposited and why only now noble Lords are informed that it is in the Library?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I said in an earlier response that we placed the guidance in the Library earlier this week. I shall try to ensure that the noble Baroness is made more precisely aware of when that occurred. I am informed that it took place on Monday.
Lord Northbourne: Not having seen the guidance or been aware that any had been produced, I must speak without the benefit of it. However, I support the amendment in principle. There are two reasons why pornographic photographs are very damaging. First, there is damage to the child itself when the photographs are taken; secondly, there is a tendency for pornographic photographs to stimulate fantasies. That leads adults with such a tendency to live out those sexual fantasies.
I ask the Government to define more closely what they mean by "indecent photographs of a child". For example, in one case reported in the press, Boots the Chemist was asked by a perfectly innocent person to develop photographs of his granddaughter sitting in the bath. The matter was reported to the police. The man was accused of being a paedophile and a very great deal of trouble and unfairness ensued. Can the Minister give an assurance that either in these guidelines or at some future stage there will be an opportunity to define the nature and character of "indecent photographs"?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am grateful for the interventions on this part of the legislation. This guidance is related to how we expect the provisions in Part II of the Bill to work in practice in relation to the disqualification of unsuitable people from work. The guidance is intended to inform the police, the Probation Service and voluntary organisations. We intend to go out to consultation on the contents of the guidance and we have simply shared it with the Committee as a courtesy. If some Members of the Committee regard my failure to mention it earlier as a discourtesy I apologise unreservedly. As the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, observes, on many occasions I have undertaken to keep noble Lords informed at every stage of the process on which we are embarked. I apologise if some Members of the Committee feel slighted by this. I believed that I should raise this with the Committee this afternoon as a matter of courtesy. Although I do not believe that it would have had a direct bearing on the content of our debates this afternoon, on reflection perhaps it would have been more helpful if the Committee had been forewarned of its appearance.
We are pleased that we have produced the guidance as early as we have. It was completed in first draft form only at the end of last week. I am grateful for the forbearance of the Committee in this matter.
Baroness Blatch: I cannot claim to be totally satisfied by the noble Lord's response. This Committee sat on Monday. Was the Minister aware that the document was to be placed in the Library on Monday? If not, why not? He should have been aware of it. If he was aware of it, it would have been courteous had we been told that it was in the Library on Monday, and even more so if the Minister had taken the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and given Members of the Committee copies of the guidance.
The noble Lord made a baffling observation. He said that it did not have a direct bearing on our debates today. If the guidance is an explanatory note on Part II it will have a direct bearing on today's debate. This is a wholly unsatisfactory state of affairs.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I always try to be helpful on these occasions. I shall come to the point raised by the noble Baroness in due course. It is worth pointing out that this part of the Bill was not reached on Monday. We were then busy with earlier parts of the legislation to which we gave careful consideration.
Lord Ampthill: In view of the comments that have been expressed with such strength from around the Committee, does the Minister agree that the amendment has merit but that it has been impossible to discuss it now because the draft of the guidelines has become available only very late in the day? Perhaps the Minister will consider withdrawing the amendment and bringing it back on Report when everyone will have had a chance to think about it.
Baroness Hilton of Eggardon: When I was in Opposition we did not get guidelines during the passage of a Bill. I should like to pray in aid the support of the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, in relation to the Police Act 1996 and in relation to the Environment Act 1995. Those were large and important Acts. We did not get guidelines until after the Bill had passed through all stages of the House. I think that the Committee is lucky to have even draft guidelines which are available in the Library.
Baroness Blatch: In response to the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, the noble Baroness will know-- certainly the Minister will know--of the difficulty of technical people in the background, the officials, the counsel and all the people involved in drafting guidelines. A Minister can only do his or her best to press for guidelines. I do not think there is a Minister on either side of the House who does not do his or her best in the backroom to press for guidance, because it is helpful to the Committee. I can honestly say, with hand on heart, that during the nine years I was a Minister that, if guidance existed, I certainly did not wait until the next Committee day to tell Members that it had been placed in the Library some days before.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: More is being made of this matter than is necessary. I certainly am not inclined to withdraw the amendment as it is a technical amendment. It sets out a definition of an offence against a child. The guidance is guidance. It is there for our information. If Members of the Committee feel that it is important to have a debate on that, no doubt the issue can be raised again on Report. The Bill makes perfect sense without the guidance, as does the amendment. The guidance is for those working in the childcare sector. That is where it is most important.
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