§ 3.30 p.m.
§ LORD GARDINER
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. I have not asked anybody to speak on the Second Reading of this Bill, but I think that the list of speakers shows that the Bill has raised considerable interest in your Lordships' House. The subject is a somewhat complex one, however, and I hope, therefore, that the House will allow me some indulgence if I make a speech rather longer, perhaps, than is normal on the Second Reading of a Private Member's Bill.
It was in December, 1970, that the Howard League for Penal Reform, Justice and NACRO—the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders—appointed a committee, of which I had the honour to be chairman, to consider a problem of old convictions. I say on purpose "a problem of old convictions" because there are others. We were not proposing to concern ourselves with what are sometimes rather loosely called hardened professional criminals; and we were not concerning ourselves with any conviction which had led to a sentence of more than two years' imprisonment. We were not concerning ourselves in other words with those with whom the Criminal Law Revision Committee are particularly concerned. Nor were we concerning ourselves with another group where there is an equal problem, and that is that rather large group, which is a great trouble to society, made up of people who seem to go in and come out of prison over a 709 considerable time. There is a problem there, because the files of all three societies contain many cases of men who, on coming out of prison, manage to get employment and do all right until the police come round and tell the employers and who are then given their cards. The reason why we are not dealing with those people is because theirs is a separate problem.
The group with which we are alone concerned is a different group, but a large one. It is made up of men and women —primarily, of course, men—who get into trouble during adolescence and who then reach a stage when they marry, settle down and lead regular lives. They in fact become rehabilitated personally; and, as I shall have occasion later to point out, the risk, after a certain time, of their ever again getting into serious trouble is not only no more than but is slightly less than that of people who have never been in trouble of any kind before. The question is whether, where such men have done everything they can to rehabilitate themselves but still find that at any time their lives may be shattered by a very old conviction—perhaps after 10, 20 or 30 years—it would not be to the interests of society that society itself should complete the period of rehabilitation.
My Lords, such men in fact get into difficulties in many different ways: obviously, in relation to employment and obtaining professional qualifications. I believe that even a conviction at the age of 12 is a fatal bar throughout life to being employed by a body like the Post Office. Then, insurance. If such a man is doing well and has saved a little money, he may want to start a business. When he goes to a solicitor he is bound to be told that it is very unlikely that he will be able to obtain any of the normal business insurances. The reason is that if such men as these disclose their conviction the risk is not accepted and they do not get a policy, and if they do not disclose their conviction and the insurers find out, then, for however long premiums have been paid, if a loss arises the insurers do not pay. Many people think that if you have a proposal form containing a lot of questions, so long as you answer the questions honestly and truthfully that is enough. But that is not the law of insurance. The law of insurance is that, what 710 ever questions are asked, there is a duty on anybody proposing for insurance to give the insurers any facts which a prudent insurer would consider relevant on the question either of whether he should issue a policy or, if so, at what premium.
My experience in these cases, and I think the experience of all those in the law, is that once the insurance company has called an insurance broker to say, "Whatever you may think of this old conviction yourself, it is a fact which a prudent insurer would take into account, either for the purpose of deciding whether to accept the policy or at what premium. It is impossible to call evidence to the contrary, because obviously it is no good calling anybody except from the insurance world. I remember two cases in one year which I decided, sitting as an arbitrator. They were both cases in which a director of a company, to the knowledge of other directors, had had some conviction or other. A loss had occurred—there was no suggestion that it was not an honest loss; it was a burglary, or something of that sort—and in each case evidence was called that a prudent insurer would have taken those convictions into account. In one, I remember, the company was the father's company. The father owned all the shares, and he made his two sons managing directors of the company to give them a start in life. The company proceeded in an honest and proper way for a period of years, and then they had a burglary of about £40,000. It transpired that one of these two sons, when he was at Cambridge—I think it was on Boat Race Night—had what I thought was some rather minor conviction; and at the time of the burglary he was on holiday in South Africa. But, of course, I had to decide the case according to law, and I had to find for the insurers.
Then there is a particular form of policy which very much affects employment. It is fidelity bond insurance of the block bonding type. It is insurance against defalcation by, or dishonesty of, employees, but is on the footing that every employee has to be included—and this applies to employees who have no opportunity of stealing either goods or, still less, money. But as the insurers insist on this policy applying to all the employees, virtually anybody who has a 711 conviction, particularly for dishonesty, cannot get employment in any capacity at all.
The next risk is that of getting involved in any way in a law case. By an Act of Parliament, anyone who is called as a witness in any case, whether criminal or civil, can be asked about every conviction, however old, that he has ever had, and however, to the layman, irrelevant. This is with a view to persuading the jury that because he has had convictions he is not to be believed upon his oath. The files contain many cases of that kind; and the risk is of getting involved in almost any way. "Matthew" (of course, we have not used their right names; the facts are right, but we have changed their names) was convicted in 1949 for a series of thefts. He later settled down, and in 1961 married a woman with strong religious beliefs. They opened a boarding-house in a seaside town, and later turned it into a convalescent home for old people. Everyone agreed that it was very well run and efficiently staffed. He became a much-respected member of the community, doing public work and helping people in trouble. Through carelessness he exceeded the number of patients permitted without a licence. He was taken to court, and his record was exposed. He had to abandon all the fruits of his new life, leave the town and change his name. "James" had some early convictions for dishonesty. He then settled down, and ran a respectable business in his local town. Eleven years after his last conviction he brought an action in the local county court to recover a civil debt, and found himself cross-examined by the defendant's counsel about his old convictions.
Paradoxically, the better you do in the worse difficulty you may be. If you do well, you may be pressed to enter public life; but there, of course, there is a risk that either a political opponent or a newspaper may dig out your old conviction. Those of us who know some of these people know that mostly they do not go to parties and do not like meeting large numbers of people because they are always afraid of running into somebody who knows about their trouble in early life. Equally perilous, of course, is almost any contact with the police. 712 When "Charles" was a young man he was convicted of a sex offence. Later he married and settled down. He did well in business, and became a respectable and respected member of his community. Twenty years after his conviction he was found guilty of a minor motoring offence, and his old conviction was read out in court and was reported in the local Press. When "George" was convicted of having no "L" plates on his motor-cycle, the court was told that several years before he had been convicted of indecent exposure.
Another risk arises because on a criminal conviction the man's fingerprints and photographs will be taken and will be on the police records. These photographs are put to people to see whether they can identify a particular culprit. There is one case where a man with a minor conviction at the age of 18 and who has since become a respected T.V. executive was in this way identified by a witness and as a result was convicted of a robbery in a neighbourhood that he had not been in for ten years. Fortunately, he was acquitted on appeal, but meanwhile he had served nine months; and in that sort of case no compensation is available from public funds.
I confess that we had been considering these problems weekly for quite a considerable time when, for the first time, it occurred to one of us to say, "I wonder how many people we are talking about." We found that we did not know. We asked one of our members, a Queen's Counsel, an acknowledged authority on criminal statistics, to find out. He said he had done his best but was quite unable to find out how many people who had been convicted, particularly of the more serious offences, then go straight for five, seven or ten years. We asked the Home Office. They said, "We do not know." They said that it was an interesting point, that they would rather like to know and that they would ask the statistical branch to do a special survey. They had to go back some years because they wanted to know what had happened afterwards. They took 1957 as an average year and they took 4,000 males convicted on indictment as a random sample, which they said was quite sufficient.
They found this. Of first offenders, 64 per cent. had gone straight for 5 years and 60 per cent. had gone straight for 713 10 years. Of those convicted before, 33 per cent. had gone straight for 5 years and 30 per cent. for 10 years. They said that the important things which seemed to follow are these. First, 9 out of 10 of those going straight for 5 years, go straight for 10 years. Secondly, the number who go wrong after 10 years is infinitesimal. In fact, they said, it is slightly smaller than the number of those who never have been convicted of any offence before, and probably this is because they have learned their lesson. Finally, they said, "We can fairly assess the total number of these people in the community and it is about 1 million"— which, I must say, surprised us very much. They said that for various reasons that is probably an underestimate. They said they had only taken males and that women are much more likely to stay out of trouble later on than are men.
I should have thought that it must be a disincentive to those who have been convicted to know that no matter what they do, no matter how honestly they act or how hard they work, there never comes a time when a conviction can be lived down. Conversely, I should have thought that it would be an incentive to a man to know that if he goes straight for five years, or whatever the period may be, he will be all right. The problem is not lessened by the number of new laws which are constantly being made. Taking indictable offences and the more serious summary offences, by the age of 60 about 31 per cent. of the population have been convicted. Nor is it made easier by the degree to which personal information can now be stored on credit data banks and in computers; nor by the inquiry agents, some of whom advertise that they can get you anybody's criminal record for £5 or £7. I will come back to that later.
My Lords, this country is the only member of the Council of Europe which has no rehabilitation law; so we made a considerable study of the laws of other countries, and particularly the rehabilitation laws of Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, Sweden, the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R.—and I shall come back to that.
Clauses 1 and 2 of this Bill set out the substance of our proposals: that if a man is convicted and has served a sentence or complied with an order in a case in which a rehabilitation period 714 applies and he has not, with certain exceptions, been again convicted during the rehabilitation period, then he shall be treated as a rehabilitated person and the conviction treated as spent. Clause 2 explains what this means; namely, that with certain exceptions he will be treated in law as if there had been no such offence or conviction, and, again with certain exceptions, no evidence to prove either would be admissible.
There are two other features of our proposals which I think I should mention at once. The rehabilitation periods that we propose are these: where a man has not had a custodial sentence, five years; where he has had a custodial sentence of lip to six months at magistrates' court level, seven years; where the sentence was from six months up to but not exceeding two years, ten years. We had a number of letters saying that these periods were really too long and that they ought to be three years, five years and seven years. We gave close attention to these matters and we have two answers. First, we realise that these periods will bear more hardly on the young. For that reason, we propose that in the case of those from 12 to 17 years of age, the period shall be halved. Secondly, if in practice the period should be thought to be wrong, or it is thought that this age is too low or too high, we propose in Clause 3 that the Home Secretary should have the power by Order in Council subject to the Affirmative Resolution procedure of both Houses to alter either the period or the age limit.
May I digress before coming on to further details of the Bill?—because, while I have had considerable support from all parts of the House, I have had three letters which raise exactly the same point. They say, in effect, "Certainly this is a thing which ought to be remedied and in principle we agree with you; but it seems to us that what you are in fact doing is authorising a man to tell a lie. Can that be right?" May I now deal with that point? There are only four ways which have ever been tried or suggested for remedying this wrong. The first is to have a tribunal or board to which the rehabilitated person can apply for what in one country is called a pardon. This does not seem to work, probably because, first, the last thing in the world which a rehabilitated person 715 wants to do is himself to drag up that episode from 20 years earlier. He is living among people, none of whom knows about his past; and he hopes that nobody will. The cases can be heard in camera but they have to be listed; and in the case of anybody who is reasonably well known, the Press would find out. Secondly, not unreasonably, the first thing the tribunal or board does is to send the police along to see the man's employer and neighbours to find out whether he is leading an honest life. Thirdly, if I am wrong in thinking that they would not wish to take advantage of this, one reflects that there are 1 million people in this position—and I do not know where is the board or tribunal to deal with that.
A feature of a number of foreign countries as part of their rehabilitation law is that the record itself is cancelled physically. Although this is fairly general on the Continent, we were much opposed to that idea, for these reasons. First, in one of those very rare cases of a man going straight for, say, 10 years but who again gets into serious trouble and is convicted on indictment, is it not in the interests of society, and possibly of himself, that the judge should have access to the full record? If it is said: "Well, that is rather hard on him, but what he has done shows that he was not, after all, a rehabilitated person", I say that this Bill is only concerned with those who are in fact rehabilitated.
The second reason concerns the police. I should be the last to deny that the extent to which the police go talking to other people about people's records is perhaps excessive—the degree of traffic between the police, for example, and security officers of big companies and so on. This is a separate problem. The police are responsible for detecting crime. Surely, the police ought to be allowed to know who has done what. If you once literally remove the record, of course they will not. Then there are research bodies like the Home Office Research Unit and the Cambridge Institute of Criminology who seek to derive conclusions from the statistics. But once you falsify the statistics, once you obliterate the record, obviously their work will be of less value. Then there are public authorities which are charged with the surveillance of areas of known social risk: schoolmasters who interfere 716 with small boys and indeed the whole field of child care. There is also the man who wants a licence to operate a casino, where there may be a security risk. At the moment, this field is dealt with by the Home Secretary, because the police act on his authority. If he authorises anybody to convey, for example, information of this kind to a professional association, he is answerable for that in Parliament; and in the Bill we do not propose to disturb this. But for all those reasons we were strongly opposed to any obliteration of the record.
The third alternative is to pass a law making it a criminal offence to ask anybody a question about convictions except to ask: "Have you ever been convicted of an offence which has not been rehabilitated?" We considered this in depth, but we came to the conclusion that in fact no such law could be enforced. In the first place, this is a free country, and if we are for the first time to make it possible to send an Englishman to prison for asking questions, I should think people would wonder what the country was coming to. There would of course be arguments as to how far you were at liberty to depart from the exact wording of the Statute in question. We could not really envisage a prosecution. Normally, the one man who would know would be the rehabilitated offender, if he is asked, "What convictions have you had?" instead of being asked the statutory question. Again, he is not going to prosecute, because the last thing he wants to do is to take any form of legal proceedings which are going to raise the whole of his past. And, of course, there would obviously be many ways round it. No doubt those who had not committed any offence would say: "No; I have never been convicted of anything in my life". And those who simply said, "No" at once would of course be suspect. So, although at first sight the idea might have some attraction, we felt that it was quite impracticable.
One is left therefore with our proposal; and its justification is this. If an offence has happened, nothing can make it unhappen Any remedy therefore will probably have some degree of artificiality. The thing is to choose that which has the least artificiality. Both the conviction and the sentence are creations of the law. Is not this therefore a case in which the law ought to take the lead, put a term to that which it has created 717 and say: "In these conditions, and after such and such periods, the effect of this is to end."? There is nothing very new in this. We are quite used to Acts of Parliament which, usually for some good social or other reason, say that A is to be deemed to be B. Of course it is not B; it is A. But we are still a law-abiding country, and if the law is that A is to be deemed to be B, most people will accept it.
The way in which we have tried to do this, by saying something is to be inadmissible in evidence, is also very familiar to our law. Hearsay evidence may be true, but because it is so difficult to check we do not allow it to be given. It is a truth on which evidence cannot be given. And there are a lot of presumptions of various kinds. A tenant cannot be allowed to dispute the title of his landlord. The licensee of a patent is not allowed to prove that the patent is invalid. If one thinks of one's driving licence, it may have been littered with endorsements for exceeding the speed limit, but if you can keep straight for three years you are entitled to a clean licence, which foxes the policeman. If he knew that you had exceeded the speed limit several times already, and you have just done it again, he would issue a summons; but, faced with a clean licence, he does not know, and he gives you a caution—except that if one has been convicted of driving a car under the influence of drink or drugs then the period is ten years. It is not of course a true analogy because the conviction remains, but it is subject to the same principle.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, may I interrupt my noble and learned friend? He knows that I am very sympathetic to his Bill, but a crucial point for many of us is this very point. He has said that the law frequently says that A can be deemed to be B. But, as I understand Clause 2, it does not say that; it merely says that it will not be a criminal offence to say that A is B—or have I misunderstood?
§ LORD GARDINER
My Lords, it is not that it is a criminal offence. The main provision is that no evidence will be admissible. It will not be for the man himself to say what the law is now saying; namely, that this conviction is to be treated as if it had never taken place and 718 accordingly no evidence in any court will be admissible to prove it. This is in fact the most common method which other countries have used. Here I must confess that all my life I have been resistant to the argument that I have so often heard in the field of law reform: that something that works perfectly well in most other countries could not possibly work properly here, because they are foreigners. Of course there are differences between countries. Of course it does not follow that if something works well in the field of law in other countries it would necessarily work well here. But this is a point which I think should be considered.
In the law of Germany, for example, criminal records record losses of civil rights as well as sentences, and access to the record is first restricted after five years for lesser cases and ten years in others, and the entry is cancelled after ten years. Once the entry is cancelled, a person is in general entitled to state, even in court, that he has no convictions. French law is the same. The conviction is not mentioned in extracts from the criminal records and a legal fiction—that is what they call it; une fiction légale—is created that the reinstated person has not been convicted. And there, as here, I understand, it applies in all courts. It used to be, and I think still is, in France a ground for divorce that the spouse has been convicted of certain criminal offences. If evidence is taken of the criminal offence and of the conviction, that is a ground for divorce. But if the spouse waits until the rehabilitation period has expired, then she cannot proceed on it, because the conviction in law has ceased to exist.
There is a wide, very disparate group of countries which have almost the same law; namely, Austria, Egypt, Italy, Japan and Ethiopia. In case the House may be interested to hear this, I may tell your Lordships that Article 245 of the Ethiopian Penal Code says:Reinstatement, since it cancels the sentence, shall produce the following effects:As I say, it is substantially the same in Austria, Egypt, Italy and Japan.
- "(a) relieves the person concerned of any disabilities which are attached to the sentence;
- "(b) the sentence shall be deleted from his police record and for the future be presumed to be non-existent;
- "(c) a reproach referring to an old conviction made either by ill-will or any other reason shall come under the provisions of criminal law regarding defamation, and the
719 defences based on justification or public interest shall not be admissible."
I now turn to the Bill. Clause 3 may look complicated, because if it is to be said that the man has not had a custodial sentence, you then have to say how detention orders, borstal orders, probation orders and absolute and conditional discharge orders are to be dealt with. Subsection (4) refers to statutory disqualifications which are to remain as they are—certainly disqualifications in other Acts. Most of them do not apply because they do not last for more than five years, but there are exceptions—for example, people who hold public house licences and who, if convicted of offences against our drinking laws cannot hold a licence during that period. We propose that such things as these should remain as they are. Subsection (8) raises the question of a young man convicted of something quite serious, for which he goes to prison for a year, so that he has a rehabilitation period of 10 years. For nine and a half years he leads an unblemished life and then is convicted and fined £2 for parking his car in the wrong place. The question is: does he then go back to square one? We thought that if the conviction is one on indictment the answer should be, Yes; if the conviction is one of those many cases which are indictable—that is to say, can be tried either on indictment or before the justices again, Yes; but if it is a purely summary offence, No. I hope that the House may think that that is the right balance.
Clause 4 was not in the Bill as originally drafted. The Home Office asked whether it would not be difficult for those people, and others too, to know what the rehabilitation period is in a particular case. Therefore we have inserted Clause 4, which provides that a court shall give everyone a certificate in the form set out in the Schedule, from which it will be plain what the application of this Act is to a particular case. Even if it is not practicable to do this in every single case, we feel that it would be of value if it could be done in most cases.
Clause 5(1) defines convictions for the purpose of the Act. Subsection (2) completely foxed the Home Office, and per- 720 haps I had better say a word in explanation. What it says is:No order made by any court in respect of any person who has not been found guilty of an offence shall, after the commencement of this Act, be given in evidence as a previous conviction of that person upon his subsequent conviction of any offence.Your Lordships may ask how, if he is not found guilty, can it be included in his list of previous convictions? My committee had no qualifications in particular for expressing moral views: that is entirely a matter for Parliament. What they were qualified on was experience, and particularly from the Bench, because the members included three justices of the peace, a barrister, a solicitor, the Secretary of the Howard League, the Secretary of Justice, a deputy Crown Court judge and two serving London stipendiary magistrates—men who know criminals, crime, the work of the courts and the police. If a child is deserted by its parents, it is the practice in many parts of the country to say that it is in need of care and protection and the child is then committed to the care of the local authority. This fact is always included in the previous convictions list. This seems to all of us wrong. We thought that it ought to be stopped, and that is the object of this subsection.
Subsection (3) specifies the four important cases in which, although a man has gone straight for the relevant number of years, and although he is a rehabilitated person, all his old convictions can still be brought up against him. The first case is if he is thereafter convicted on indictment. I believe that is right, because it shows he is one of those very rare cases who have not been rehabilitated after all. And not only does this apply if he is tried on indictment, but if he is sent up for sentence by the magistrates' court, because that also means that he has done something seriously wrong. Subsection (3)(b) I regret—we all make mistakes ! The Home Office said, "You have not allowed for the increasing way in which old convictions are going to be slung about when the Criminal Law Revision Committee gets to work." I thought it was rather unusual to anticipate legislation, particularly when many people hope that some of the recommendations will never be part of our law. But one always tries to meet Home Office points, so we have expressly said in (b) that this 721 is subject to any changes which our law may make in the future. I do not think it does anything or that it is necessary, because naturally this Bill must be subject to later legislation. But that is the origin of it.
On adoption, we thought that the public would expect that a man applying for an adoption order should disclose his whole life. I do not know whether I agree, but there are usually applications, certainly in the county court, which are heard in private. However, I sympathise with the employer or the insurer who says: "Look at these two men: this man has been convicted of an offence of dishonesty. It is true that it happened when he was a boy and he has gone straight for 10 years, but still he is a risk in comparison with this other man, who has led an absolutely blameless life ". I sympathise with that, but of course they do not know what you know and I know and the Home Office know: that the rehabilitated man is less likely to get into any serious trouble in the future than the man who has never been in trouble at all; and I should think it very doubtful whether a court, when considering adoption, would pay any attention to a 21 year old juvenile offence. I think they are very much more likely to say that if this father adopts sons, then he is going to be more careful to see that they do not get into trouble than the ordinary father, because he knows what it is going to cost them and how long it is going to last. However, on the whole the Committee thought that exception should be given. The fourth exception, of course, concerns the consent of the rehabilitated person.
Clause 6 deals with defamation. Here one has to strike a balance, as always, between society and the individual. We all felt that the employer or ex-employer should not have to prove justification. Anyone who is in a position of either absolute or qualified privilege should retain it. Sometimes a man who gives a reference is sued for defamation. He never has to say, "Well, I am going to prove that what I said is true", because he has this other simpler defence of saying, "I was simply saying what I honestly believe". We felt that an ex-employer, asked for a reference, would be in an impossible position, and 722 although this would be less protection to the rehabilitated person than would the contrary, one has, as I say, to take all aspects into account. We felt that the ex-employer giving a reference ought to be able to retain his qualified privilege. Then we dealt with things in Law Reports, textbooks and innocent republications there defined.
Clause 7 deals with police records. This is a difficult problem. The police are subject to the Official Secrets Acts so, strictly speaking, it is a breach of the Official Secrets Acts for the police to disclose criminal records unless they are authorised to do so. I have asked the noble Viscount to give consideration to this question because, as I have told him, I am not sure what the position is. He probably has not yet had time to consider it. My recollection is that about a year ago in the other place somebody made a fuss because the Home Secretary had authorised the police to give the criminal record of a doctor to the General Medical Council. That only surprised me because I thought it was so well known that the police, on the authority of the Home Secretary, always sent convictions of professional men to their professional organisation. Mr. Maudling said that he would reconsider the whole question, particularly whether the man, who I understand, is not usually told, should be told when that is done, and in effect what people should be involved.
It is so easy to forget a question, or to miss something, as I did the other day on the Administration of Justice Bill. I do not recollect having seen anything about that matter since, and perhaps the Minister could assist us. What the Bill proposes in this respect is to leave things exactly where they are. There are these highly sensitive areas, but it may be quite right to do this; the Secretary of State, after all, is responsible to Parliament for the way in which he exercises this discretion. I think the matter goes rather far sometimes. It may be all right, I do not know, if a foreign national is convicted of something, to tell his embassy, or if a Commonwealth citizen is concerned, to tell his High Commissioner. But there arose a case where a young man had committed several offences. He was a first offender and was sentenced to one year's imprisonment. That was a long time ago, and probably that would not 723 be done now. When he came out of prison he got a job as a shop assistant and he worked very hard. He obtained "O" levels and "A" levels. He qualified for university and obtained a degree. He had a professional qualification.
Some 14 years after the juvenile episode he accepted an appointment as a teacher in his own speciality in a Commonwealth university. There was no question on the application form about convictions. He sold his house; he and his wife gave up their jobs; they took their boys away from school and the family pets were disposed of. Four days before he was due to sail, the university cancelled the appointment because the High Commissioner had asked the Criminal Record Office and they told him about the conviction 14 years previously. As it was a breach of contract the university had to refund the passage money and expenses, but there he was without a house 'or job. It took six years before he got back in the same position. This is perhaps going rather too far, but it is a case—and I am not criticising the Home Secretary—for a really good look at who ought to be included on the list of people to whom the contents of the Criminal Record Office are divulged, and how old the convictions should be.
Those are authorised disclosures. I am afraid that there are unauthorised disclosures, and these are of two kinds. One is when it is done voluntarily. Five years ago there were over a hundred detective agencies in London alone, many of them run by ex-police officers. They have friends in the C.R.O., and I am afraid that a certain amount of unauthorised information is passed on. Having mentioned inquiry agents, may I at once say that I have read of a case pending in the newspapers. I know nothing of the agency concerned, and nothing I say is intended to apply to them.
The other class of case is where it is done by fraud, and this happens, too. The ex-policeman in the inquiry agent's office knows the situation, rings up the C.R.O. and says, "This is Camberwell Police Station, we have a man who has been brought in". The C.R.O. is given the name and address of the man and, believing the telephone call to come from the police station, they give the information. 724 We thought that this ought to be stopped. We thought that the first difficulty was that nobody wanted to prosecute under the Official Secrets Act. It is a sledgehammer which is unpopular with everybody. We thought that a police officer who voluntarily disclosed unauthorised information ought to be subject to a specific offence punishable by a fine up to £100. An inquiry agent who obtains information by fraud ought to be liable to fines up to £400, or six months in prison.
My Lords, it only remains for me to thank the Home Office, who I know have taken a lot of trouble with this Bill, leading insurers with whom I have discussed it, chief constables and judges with whom I have discussed it. I should add that the Bill applies to Scotland. We thought that it was a pity that so many Bills apply to England and Wales, leaving Scotland to tag along three or four years later. We saw no reason why, if it was right for England and Wales, it was not right for Scotland. We consulted our Scottish legal friends, and we hope and believe that we are right.
I should like to thank those who have supported the Bill. It has had a very good Press, particularly a good legal Press. The Confederation of British Industry has appointed a special six-man committee to go into every aspect of the Bill from the employer's point of view. I have seen them, and they have unanimously recommended to their Council that the Bill should not be opposed. I am equally grateful to the most reverend Primate, who referred the Bill to his Committee for Moral Responsibility, of which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield is chairman. He is unfortunately unable to be here, but the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York is familiar with their views. I should like to acknowledge my personal indebtedness to the then Lord Chief Justice, the late Lord Parker of Waddington, with whom I was in touch during our deliberations and who, when I sent him the report, wrote to me and said:If I may say so, I think that the report is excellent and arrives at a proper balance between the interests of the individual and the interests of the public. Moreover, the idea behind it is not only more appropriate to our system, but is far better than that adopted by other countries. As at present advised, I should support a Bill carrying out the recommendations in the report, though it may be 725 that I would seek to change it in some respects of detail.He then very kindly made a suggestion about how hospital orders should be treated, which I need hardly say I adopted.
There is one case in our report that I know myself. She is called "Joan" in the report, though that is not her name. In 1929, Joan, then eighteen, was convicted of soliciting. A few years later she married and has ever since led the life of a good citizen. Two of her three children married, and she now has four grandchildren. Neither her husband nor her children know of her conviction. She has always known that if, for any reason, she became newsworthy any newspaper could publish the information. Since it were true she would have no remedy or redress. No newspaper has yet done so, although other people in a similar position have not been so fortunate. She has lived her whole life under this shadow and even now, at the age of 62, it is something which she knows may explode under her feet at any time. I think that this is wrong; society ought to do something at some time during the lives of these people—and there are a million of them—to relieve them of this heavy burden. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª. —(Lord Gardiner)