HL Deb 02 December 1996 vol 576 cc544-76

House again in Committee on Clause 102.

[Amendments Nos. 112 to 117 not moved.]

Clause 102, as amended, agreed to.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon moved Amendment No. 118: After Clause 102, insert the following new clause— GUIDELINES FOR CHIEF OFFICERS ("The Secretary of State shall publish, and from time to time may revise, in accordance with section 108 below, guidelines as to which factors might properly be taken into account, and which should be ignored, by the chief officer in responding to a request from the Secretary of State under section 102(4) and (5) of this Act.").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment concerns the enhanced check and the factors that should be taken into consideration. The amendment states that the Secretary of State should publish, and from time to time may revise … guidelines as to which factors might properly be taken into account".

There is a real danger that irrelevant information will be released. Inevitably each of the 43 forces in the country tends to hold slightly different information in slightly different forms. Certainly over the years that procedure has improved. Nowadays there is more uniformity of police practice than there used to be. However, it would be extremely useful if the Secretary of State published guidelines about which factors should appear on the enhanced check. He should also make it clear—this is particularly important—which factors should not appear on the record of the applicant. That is particularly relevant as regards acquittals. It is extremely important that acquittals are not disclosed, even though they may suggest that a particular pattern of behaviour exists. Where someone has been found not guilty of an offence, it is contrary to our justice system that that fact should appear on the person's record.

I refer in particular to cases of domestic violence. Injunctions for domestic violence might be relevant to a person's application. That, however, is not a finding of guilt against a man or woman who has assaulted a spouse. However, it might be thought that an injunction for domestic violence might be a relevant factor. It is extremely important that acquittals should not be considered relevant information. This amendment seeks to establish clear guidelines as to the factors that might be disclosed, and the factors which would not be disclosed. I beg to move.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank

I support what has been said by the noble Baroness in moving the amendment. She referred—as does the amendment—to guidance to help chief officers. I hope she can help the Committee, and more particularly myself. I am ignorant of some of these matters and trying my best to learn. I do not know what sort of information might be relevant in the opinion of a chief officer. If the Secretary of State is to provide guidance—as this amendment requires—and assuming only that the Minister says that the Secretary of State will not be incapable of providing guidance because he does not know what that guidance ought to be, I would find it helpful, as possibly would the Committee, if, without in any way committing herself on what form the guidance would take, the Minister could indicate what sort of information it is likely that chief constables would be expected to provide. A fear in many of our minds is that with the best will in the world they might provide information based upon hearsay, prejudice, or suspicion of behaviour where there is no way of ensuring that acts have been committed. It will be helpful if the Minister will guide the Committee on the issues which may arise under this heading.

Lord Renton

We have to be careful not to get into a slight state of confusion. My noble friend may be very sympathetic to the issue of guidelines. However, I have a feeling that what is proposed could overlap the power given to the Secretary of State under Clause 108 to publish a code of practice and to revise it from time to time.

Guidelines do not require the consent of Parliament. I should have thought that the Secretary of State has power to issue guidelines without it being written into the statute. After all, the Secretary of State appoints chief officers of police. Strictly speaking, he is answerable only to those in the City of London and Greater London. We must be careful to confine ourselves in this and every Bill to what is necessary in making statute law.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank

Before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may ask him this. Do I misunderstand the matter? Clause 108, to which he referred, relates to the use of information provided to registered bodies. We are addressing Clause 102 which relates to the provision of information and what that information should be.

Lord Renton

That is true, but the provision overlaps the power given to issue a code of practice. The two cannot be entirely separated.

Baroness Blatch

Guidelines have already been published as to the kind of information which may be disclosed from local police records when the new arrangements come into effect. These were drawn up and agreed with the Association of Chief Police Officers and are set out in Annex B to the White Paper On the Record.

First, I refer the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, to Annex B of the White Paper. To give the noble Lord a flavour of what is contained in Annex B, paragraph 2 states that, The information may include details about known associates where the association gives rise to concern. It may also include details relating to decisions not to prosecute an individual or acquittals where the circumstances of individual cases give cause for concern, and where the information has not been discredited". It continues: It should not, however, include details of allegations which cannot be substantiated". I leave the noble Lord to read Annex B for himself.

It would not be possible to provide more detailed guidance than this as the content of the local information available will vary according to local practice and the individual case involved. The published guidance already makes clear that it must be possible to substantiate any information disclosed. That is an important safeguard. It will be the responsibility of the employer or licensing body to determine whether the information disclosed which might be relevant is in fact relevant.

I therefore do not see a need to legislate in this area. We believe that the amendment is unnecessary because of the safeguard already agreed with ACPO and published in Annex B of the White Paper.

8.15 p.m.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon

A White Paper is a paper for discussion. It is not part of regulations and does not form formal guidelines. The safeguard may have been agreed with ACPO but the nature of a White Paper means that it is a matter for discussion.

Baroness Blatch

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for allowing me to intervene. Perhaps I may repeat what I said. Guidelines have already been published as to the kind of information which may be disclosed from local records when the new arrangements come into effect. They have been agreed with ACPO and are set out in Annex B to the White Paper. Therefore it is our intention that that should be the case.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon

I am grateful to the Minister for that information. I was rather disturbed by what she said about acquittals being matters which could be disclosed. In a court of law, as regards acquittals, theoretically at least, the case has been shown to be disproved. The evidence has not been found acceptable to a jury. Therefore I cannot understand how acquittals can form part of someone's criminal record. That the acquittal was wrong is an opinion that all police officers feel subjectively when a case has been dismissed. But that does not mean that the acquittal has any force as part of someone's record. I am puzzled by what has been said about acquittals. I shall be grateful if the Minister can clarify the point.

Baroness Blatch

I am not a lawyer, but it is now possible under the law to commit someone for a retrial. The information about an acquittal may be relevant; it may not. It will be for the chief officer to judge and decide whether information on an acquittal should be included.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon

I urge the Minister to reconsider the point. Acquittals are surely matters for the judicial system of the country and cannot be used as part of someone's criminal record. I do not believe that it is a matter for the opinion of the chief officer, however compelling the Police Service may consider the evidence. If a court has found that someone is not guilty, to all intents and purposes that person has been found innocent of that charge. I do not understand that that can be a matter of opinion for the police.

I shall read with considerable interest the Minister's reply and may return to the matter at Report stage if I continue to be unable to understand the issue. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 103 agreed to.

Clause 104 [Disputes about accuracy of certificates]:

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon moved Amendment No. 119: Page 42, line 28, at end insert— ("( ) A new certificate shall be issued to the individual applicant and where necessary to the registered body.").

The noble Baroness said: Amendments Nos. 119 to 123 were intended to be helpful in tightening up the provision. I am the first to accept that the wording of this series of amendments is not necessarily as it should be. However, it provides explicit safeguards about the issue of certificates, and the manner in which they are issued. In moving Amendment No. 119, I speak also to Amendments Nos. 120 to 123.

The intention is that new certificates should be issued to the individual applicant and, where necessary, the registered body so that the individual applicant will be aware of what is contained in the certificates.

Amendment No. 120 ensures that the new certificate will be issued as soon as is reasonably practicable, so that in relation to volunteers, who are often hired for short periods at particular times of the year, it is important that there should be no great delay in issuing certificates.

Amendment No. 121 relates to payment where a new certificate is issued. We suggest that there should not be payment again for a new certificate.

Amendment No. 122 is extremely important; we come back to the matter later. If information on a certificate is inaccurate and could be a libel on an applicant, an applicant may have failed to obtain a job because the certificate contains inaccurate information, it is important that compensation should be payable.

Amendment No. 123 relates to the possibility of disputed, inaccurate information. We suggest that a criminal records tribunal should be able to adjudicate on such an appeal. People have lost jobs through inaccuracies in relation to data records on credit. People have been unable to obtain mortgages or credit on goods because their names have appeared inaccurately on credit registers. The same may well apply in relation to criminal record certificates. Therefore this amendment is intended as a safeguard and to provide the applicant with a reasonably effective remedy if the information about him or her is wrong. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

The first three of these amendments are unnecessary since it is implicit in the clause that, if a new certificate has to be issued, it will be issued to the individual applicant and where necessary to the registered body; it will be issued as soon as is reasonably practicable and no payment will be due.

The fourth amendment proposes that the Secretary of State shall compensate an applicant if it is shown, on the balance of probabilities, that he has been prejudiced by inaccurate information on his certificate. That should also be unnecessary. Individuals will be able to contest the information provided on a certificate and have it corrected if it is wrong. In the case of criminal conviction certificates if the individual believes the information is correct the matter can be resolved before anyone else sees the certificate. For criminal record certificates and enhanced certificates disclosure will be simultaneous and, unlike the current situation, the individual will know what is said and will be able to challenge it. The question of prejudice should therefore not arise. The only situation where that would not happen would be when the police disclosed information from local records which could hinder a continuing or subsequent investigation and where the decision would have been taken at a senior level and with due regard for any consequences. I hope that noble Lords opposite would not wish in this way to compromise the success of those investigations.

The question of prejudice will always be difficult to assess, particularly where information about ongoing investigations is involved. We must remember that these proposals greatly improve the transparency of the arrangements for criminal record checks in that in future, save in the most exceptional circumstances, individuals will know what information is supplied and can have it corrected. Any dispute about the accuracy of a certificate will be considered quickly and there is an obligation on the Secretary of State to correct any inaccuracies.

We will be issuing guidance to employers about good practice in relation to the relevance of previous convictions during recruitment. We will include in that guidance advice on the importance of employers providing a reasonable time for individuals either to obtain a criminal conviction certificate or, in the event of inaccuracy, to challenge a criminal record or enhanced certificate. We expect the situation to be very rare in which a certificate is challenged and the matter is not resolved within a few days. A cumbersome and no doubt expensive statutory compensation scheme seems unlikely to assist in the speedy resolution of disputes, which must surely be our primary objective.

Although I understand the motive that lies behind the final amendment in this group, I am afraid that I cannot accept it. In the first place, no new certificate will be issued if the Secretary of State is not of the opinion that the information on the original certificate is inaccurate. Secondly, there is no such body as the criminal records tribunal and we do not propose to set up such a body. If a dispute as to the accuracy of a certificate cannot be readily resolved—for example, by checking that the information provided was correct and that it had been accurately entered into the system—Clause 105 provides for an individual to be offered the opportunity of a fingerprint check to provide definitive proof of identity. The applicant will have to pay for a fingerprint check but that will be refunded if the original certificate proves to have been incorrect. No information will be included on certificates which cannot be properly substantiated by the police. Information on criminal conviction certificates and criminal record certificates will be a matter of record; therefore checking them should be a relatively simple matter.

Similarly, on enhanced certificates the vast majority of information will be about convictions, cautions or bind-overs. Again, these are a matter of record. It will be in only a very few situations that other information will be provided, such as where a prosecution was not brought, perhaps because a child was too young to testify. The guidance that is being prepared should ensure that that is fully substantiated. That, again, is a very important safeguard. The information will be released only after consideration by a senior police officer who will be well aware of the need to be able to justify that his or her decision was in the public interest and necessary to prevent crime.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon

I thank the Minister for that detailed response. However, I do not feel that I have received an adequate response in relation to Amendment No. 122 which relates to the question of compensating an applicant if he or she is found to have been prejudiced by inaccuracy of information in the first place. If one imagines people before a job interview and one of the applicants at the interview has an inaccurate certificate which he may well challenge at the time, nevertheless the applicant may not get the job because of the doubt about the particular certificate. In those circumstances the possibility of compensation should still be available. However, I shall be arguing that point more thoroughly in relation to Amendment No. 24. Therefore I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 120 to 123 not moved.]

Clause 104 agreed to. Clause 105 agreed to.

Clause 106 [Sources of information]:

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon moved Amendment No. 124: Page 43, line 10, leave out subsection (5).

The noble Baroness said: This is intended as a probing amendment. It seeks to discuss the issue of removing from the Home Secretary any responsibility for the inaccuracy of criminal record certificate information. The intention of the amendment is to remove the subsection which states that the Secretary of State cannot be held responsible for any mistakes which would raise the issue as to who is to be held accountable. I referred to the matter in relation to Amendment No. 122.

Errors in certificates can come from more than one source. In relation to minor criminal offences, neither police nor courts verify the identity of convicted and cautioned individuals. Therefore, if individuals pay a fine promptly, it is very easy to get away with a false identity.

Information that is being assembled for the national criminal records database has often been through several stages. Some of the data will be extremely old and may have been stored under previous computer systems. There is also the possibility of errors in the transcription of court files and in converting microfiche information, on which at present a lot of criminal record information is held, to readable data on computers. There are concerns about the efficiency of the new computerised system. A report in The Times on 16th September this year, for instance, stated that the project, has been crippled because millions of records cannot be put on to the computer".

Apparently, currently only a tenth of the records are on the database, and some records are unintelligible when they emerge.

It seems that this subsection of the Bill removes from an individual any ability to achieve compensation as a result of inaccuracies and inefficiencies in the systems. Therefore this amendment seeks to retain the possibility of an individual seeking compensation. As the Bill stands, if no action can be taken against the Home Secretary, it is not apparent that anyone else can be blamed for the current systems, unless the Minister will tell the Committee that the police force or the court supplying the information could be liable. We therefore feel that this particular subsection should not remain, because it removes from an applicant the possibility of seeking compensation.

Lord Thomas of Gresford

I support the amendment for broader reasons than those expressed by the noble Baroness. While it is important that applicants should be properly compensated if false information is given about them, I believe the intent of subsection (5) is to prevent proceedings being taken by people who rely on the certificates provided but who may not be the applicant themselves. So an employer who relies upon a certificate will presumably be unable to recover damages for any negligence on the part of the Secretary of State or those for whom he is responsible. That makes a great deal of difference to the way in which the employer may be able to rely on the information provided to him.

It seems to me that we are considering not only the interests of the applicant but those of the people who may in various ways rely upon the certificates. For a whole body of people to be denied access to compensation or damages removes one of the great safeguards of the Bill.

8.30 p.m.

Lord Renton

I am glad that the noble Baroness raised this matter because we need to consider subsection (5) carefully. We must bear in mind that if there is a real cause of injustice, we should acknowledge it and find a way of preventing that injustice.

In Clause 106, we must bear in mind that the information being given to the Home Secretary is information which has not been compiled by him or his department. It has been compiled by the police or other people who may have given the information. Unless the Home Secretary forms a new branch of his department to do the work, he would have no opportunity to check its accuracy. He must just assume that the chief officers of police and others who provided the information have got it right.

To me it is unthinkable that in those circumstances the Secretary of State could have proceedings taken against him if some of the information turns out to be inaccurate. I should have thought that the person to be sued would be whoever had given the information to the Secretary of State. That is a different matter. I should be interested to hear what my noble friend has to say about the point.

Lord Thomas of Gresford

I wish to follow the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Renton. May we have an assurance from the Minister that subsection (5) will not prevent proceedings being taken against chief constables or other providers of information? Perhaps we may have the assurance that they will not be able to shelter behind the certificate of the Secretary of State. It will be the Secretary of State who publishes the certificate on which the employer or some other person may rely. In ordinary circumstances, they would bear prime responsibility, subject to the recovery of damages against the person who provided them with the information, perhaps in legal proceedings, by way of a third party notice or whatever it is.

What is the intent of subsection (5)? Is it to prevent any proceedings arising in relation to a certificate or simply to prevent proceedings against the Home Secretary?

Lord Hylton

Is it not inevitable that mistakes will be made concerning the provision of information by a Cabinet Minister originating from other state-appointed officials? It seems to be quite intolerable that those who are financially and otherwise prejudiced and affected by the information should have no recourse.

Baroness Blatch

I am bemused by some of the remarks by Members of the Committee in speaking to the amendment. The responsibility for determining the accuracy or otherwise of the information is that of the recipient of the certificate in almost every case, with one exception. Perhaps I may explain that. Where the information in an enhanced certificate is sensitive and subject to current investigation, the individual will not see the certificate. Normally individuals will see the certificate and if it contains convictions that they never had, cautions that they were never given or information with which they do not concur, it will be for the individuals under Clause 104 to exercise their right of challenge to ensure that the information is corrected. In most cases it will be a relatively straightforward affair because convictions and cautions are a matter of record. The error should be corrected quickly and before any employer has seen it.

To complete the point, I have already mentioned that we shall encourage employers to give an opportunity for challenged information to be secured and for corrections to be made so that someone may produce a certificate to the individual's satisfaction.

I think that the amendment might be based on a misunderstanding of this part of the Bill. The criminal record information included on certificates will, as my noble friend Lord Renton said, be completely derived from police records. There will be no way in which the information can be verified by the officials acting on behalf of the Secretary of State. I hope the Committee will agree that it would therefore not be reasonable for him to be held liable if criminal record information received in good faith—as it would be—from the police and included in a criminal record certificate was subsequently found to be incorrect.

The Committee will recall that we have made provision in Clause 104 for a procedure which will enable individuals to challenge the accuracy of certificates.

Lord Thomas of Gresford

I am sorry to interrupt the Minister but, with the greatest respect, she is not dealing with my point. Clearly an applicant can look at the certificate and decide whether it is correct. But suppose the applicant realises that the information given is inaccurate; suppose he has a clean certificate which is provided to a prospective employer who acts upon that information. As a result, damage is caused to that employer through serious theft or, in care cases, abuse. Is the employer to have no recompense? Is the abused child to have no recompense? Where does the buck stop, if it does not stop with the Secretary of State who provides the certificate?

Baroness Blatch

I am probably misunderstanding the noble Lord. In all cases, the individual will see the certificate. If I receive a criminal record certificate or have sight of one—and I have a right under the law to have sight of both the enhanced certificate (except for the rare occasions when that would not be possible) and the criminal record certificate, I as an individual see it and—

Lord Thomas of Gresford

With great respect, suppose I am a child abuser with convictions for child abuse and, by mistake, I receive a clean certificate which I can show to the person who is running a children's home. Is the person who runs that home or are the people who are abused within the home to have no recompense as a result of the false certificate which I as the abuser have, of course, accepted, because that is how I get the job?

Baroness Blatch

In that case, if the individual has not only proffered informal information that he has no record but he has a certificate which shows that he has no record, the person who is at fault and against whom the employer has recourse is that individual.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: But I have—

Baroness Blatch

Perhaps the noble Lord will give way. This is the House of Lords and we have rules about engagement in debate. First, the situation would involve the individual knowingly submitting a certificate and information to the employer which are plainly wrong. The person who is then in breach is the individual.

Lord Thomas of Gresford

Again, for example, I have no money. I am a child abuser. I am the person with a record and I need a job. I am presented with a clean certificate. I do not dispute it. I say, "Thank you very much", take it to the employer and get the job. The people who then suffer are the children, in the instance I have suggested, and the owners of the home, whether it be a local authority home or whatever. Are they to have no recompense?

Baroness Blatch

I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, how could he possibly hold the Secretary of State responsible, as indeed do the proponents of this amendment, for what is dishonesty and a breach of the law by the individual who has proffered incorrect information and colluded with what might have been an innocent mistake, and perpetuated the dishonesty with the employer in pursuit of a job?

Lord Thomas of Gresford

The principle of an employer being responsible for the people beneath him who do things that are wrong is a basic principle of law. People such as the Secretary of State are responsible for the people who work in their departments. I would like to know if he is to be responsible for the people who provide him with false information as well and, if not, are they to be responsible?

Baroness Blatch

I find it difficult because the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, has not answered the question as to how he can possibly hold the Secretary of State responsible for what might be an innocent mistake, where the complicity has been engaged in by the individual applying for the job. He has not only proffered incorrect information, but has perpetuated the deception by taking a certificate which he wittingly knows is wrong. Therefore, in law the employer could at least be deemed to have done everything reasonably possible. He sought a certificate, he saw a certificate, and therefore culpability would not lie with the employer. The wrongdoing was not on the part of the Secretary of State or the employer but on the part of the potential employee who has misled and been dishonest about his application for the job.

Lord Thomas of Gresford

It is vital to answer the question, so perhaps I may be forgiven if I do. The principle is responsiat superior. Of course in many instances a number of defendants may be sued, but what is the point of suing me, the child abuser, when I do not have any money? The only way in which the person will get recompensed is through the Secretary of State, one way or the other.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon

Perhaps I may join in this dialogue. Presumably the criminal records agency has some liability for issuing a misleading certificate in these circumstances. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, for widening the debate on this particular amendment. We are only suggesting the Secretary of State has liability because he is presumably responsible for the new agency that is being set up, for the way in which it works and whether it issues accurate or inaccurate certificates. I shall come back to my amendment in due course, but I thought that might be helpful to the noble Lord in the discussion.

Baroness Blatch

I still stand by my original explanation about this. Data about convictions is put directly on to the computer and on to the computer database by the police. It is as accurate as possible and when any error is shown to have happened it is corrected. If an individual receives an incorrect certificate and wilfully—because we are talking about that situation—decides that he is going to accept that certificate, and accept the incorrect information, and not challenge the incorrectness of that information, how can one possibly hold the employer culpable if something goes wrong? The employer has done everything he reasonably could. How could the Secretary of State be held culpable? He cannot possibly be held responsible for the correctness or otherwise of the information which goes into the database. Under the law as it will be the individual will have been given an opportunity—in fact a very good opportunity—to question the data. In most cases, except where there is wilful, dogged determination to be dishonest with an employer—and that is on the part of the individual—most corrections will be made quickly because it will be a matter of record whether somebody had a conviction, whether or not it was spent, whether there had been a caution, or whatever. I simply cannot follow the logic of the argument put forward by the noble Lord at all.

I did say earlier in response to a point made about both the enhanced and the criminal record certificate that it was possible to have it corrected before the employer saw it. Of course, the enhanced record will have been seen by the employer, and therefore any corrections which are challenged by the individual recipient will be sent to the employer as well as to the individual applicant.

Lord Thomas of Gresford

The Minister has asked me a question and I hope it was not rhetorical because the answer to her question—which was, how can the Secretary of State be held responsible for incorrect information which he published?—is, very easily, except for this subsection.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon

I am grateful to the Minister for picking up the point that, of course, a registered body does get a copy of the inaccurate certificate at the same time as the job applicant, and therefore that is the time at which the job applicant is prejudiced by what the registered body thinks it knows about him or her, however inaccurate that might be. Any of us in the position of an employer who received a certificate about somebody would inevitably have a doubt raised in our minds, even though the job applicant might reject it.

If nobody is responsible for the accuracy of the criminal records agency, the criminal records agency of course is not—the Minister is again talking.

Baroness Blatch

Perhaps I may say to the noble Baroness, the noble Baroness throughout the day—and I have no quarrel with it because it is important—has conferred with her noble colleague on the Bench because they are working jointly on this Bill. I am working jointly with the Lord Advocate on this Bill, and from time to time, unless I leave the Chamber and adjourn the proceedings, I must be allowed to discuss with my noble friend aspects of this Bill. I do it out of no discourtesy to the noble Baroness, or indeed to any other member of the Committee, but if I am sworn to silence when anybody other than myself is speaking in Committee, I should find it nearly impossible to continue with this Bill.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon

Thank you. The point is that sometimes I am trying to put an argument to the Minister and, if the Minister does not appear to be listening to the argument that I am putting, that is naturally extremely disconcerting, and clearly, if she is talking, I feel she is not listening to me. However, I do understand the difficulty of conducting a Bill and one does need to consult with people.

The point I was making was that the registered body receives a copy of the certificate at the same time as the job applicant. If the registered body has a suspicion raised in its mind by the fact that the certificate suggests there is a conviction, inevitably it is going to choose another applicant rather than the one who has the false certificate.

Also this particular Bill, as drafted, merely seeks to absolve the Secretary of State completely from any proceedings in relation to inaccuracy of information. If the Secretary of State is not responsible, who will be responsible for inaccurate information maintained by the criminal records agency when it has been set up? My experience of all large scale computers—and I have considerable experience of police computers, extending back over some 15 years—is that almost every large scale computer does not work on occasion. There have been a series of well known disasters in relation to this. One merely has to cite the central command complex, what happened to the London Ambulance Service and the experiences that the Criminal Records Office has had. Initially, it takes a long time for any large computer system to bed down and get over its initial inaccuracies. If somebody has failed to get a job or if some organisation is liable because it has employed somebody who does not appear to have criminal convictions, then the fault must lie somewhere and cannot just lie with the applicant himself, who may have no money and therefore cannot be sued when some damage may have been caused by him.

This particular amendment merely seeks to stop the Secretary of State being inviolate against what may be gross damage done to some individual by an inaccurate certificate. However, I will, of course, read the discussion we have been having, and in the circumstances I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 106 agreed to.

Clause 107 [Registered bodies]:

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 125: Page 43, line 18, after ("fee,") insert ("(bb) supplies to him the prescribed details of its policy in respect of the recruitment and employment of persons who have been convicted of offences and of its arrangements for the training of its employees in relation to the implementation of that policy and compliance with any code of practice published under section 108 below;").

The noble Lord said: I cannot resist saying before moving Amendment No. 125 that I have some sympathy with the Minister in her need to consult. She will remember perhaps the Hunting of the Snark, where the Bellman, who is the captain of the expedition, adds to the normal order, "No one shall speak to the man at the helm", an additional order: "and the man at the helm shall speak to no one", which meant that there was no communication of any kind. As Lewis Carroll said, during those bewildering intervals the ship usually sailed backwards. We sometimes feel that things are moving in that direction.

In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 126 and 132A. All those amendments are concerned with the issue of the draft code of practice which was set out very helpfully in the White Paper, On the Record, in June this year. In case anyone should think that in Amendment No. 125 we are putting a new imposition on registered bodies to provide a policy in respect of the recruitment and employment of persons who have been convicted of offences, paragraph 6 of the draft code of practice set out in the White Paper states that organisations eligible for full or enhanced disclosure—that is to say, in terms of the Bill, criminal record certificates and enhanced criminal record certificates must have a written policy on the employment of ex-offenders, and a written strategy for implementation of the policy".

So this amendment does not impose anything new on the registered bodies themselves.

We do say that the registered bodies should supply those written policies to the Secretary of State. That would make it possible for the Secretary of State—for the Criminal Records Agency, which is the creature of the Secretary of State—to identify registered bodies which have a satisfactory written policy, recognise the need to employ ex-offenders and also recognise the need, as the amendment says, to train employees about the implementation of the policy and compliance with codes of practice. So it is not at all an additional imposition but it is a protection for the codes of practice and the written policies which the Government themselves will demand in their code of practice. It is important that these organisations should be willing to consider ex-offenders for positions of employment on their own merits and not take extraneous matters into consideration.

Having established, we hope, the necessity for such policies and the necessity, which is acknowledged by the Government, for the code of practice, Amendment No. 126 adds that the organisation: will abide by the code of practice referred to in section 108(1) below".

We want the Secretary of State to have the power to exercise his discretion and register only those bodies which will conform to the code. Otherwise, the Secretary of State would be forced to register a body which, perhaps in a previous incarnation under a different name or as a commercial organisation, had been guilty of breaches—even serious breaches—of the code of practice.

Finally in this group is Amendment No. 132A, which has been renumbered not because the wording has changed but only because we believe that the placing of it has been improved. Its intention is to introduce safeguards against minor and irrelevant spent offences being held against an applicant. From time to time the Minister says that there is no repeal of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. But, for that to be true on the ground rather than just in theory, it is necessary that there should be guidance in the code of practice to ensure that the contents of a certificate issued under any of the clauses in Part V of the Bill should be relevant, and only considered if they are relevant, to the applicant's suitability for a particular position.

The further consideration which we believe is justifiable is that employers should not go on fishing expeditions; in other words, they should not advertise a job and anybody who applies for the job be subjected to the procedures of Clauses 101 and 102. We suggest that it is much more appropriate for the procedures to be triggered only when somebody is being considered after the initial recruitment process has taken place for the job, not before the short list or indeed the final choice has been made.

In their response to the consultation paper on the White Paper, the Government recognise that as an issue by saying: further consultation and consideration will be given to the circumstances in which checks at the short listing stage should be accepted by the CRA".

We had much discussion earlier today about the burden on the criminal records authority. The Minister used as an argument for not accepting that there should be immediate provision for protection of vulnerable adults that there will be a heavy burden on the authority. Amendment No. 132A would reduce the burden of the authority by making sure that checks are called for only when the short listing process has been completed and when there is a definite intention to offer a post to an applicant.

There are, of course, alternative ways of making checks, notably the List 99 which is used for teachers by the Department for Education and Employment. That may be a help in certain circumstances but as a general rule we consider that the checks should be triggered only at the last stage of the recruitment process rather than in the form of a fishing expedition.

All three amendments help to define—I believe, helpfully—the circumstances in which Clauses 101 and 102 should be applied. I commend them to the Committee. I beg to move.

Lord Thomas of Gresford

I support Amendment No. 132A in particular. The matter that particularly concerns me in relation to the certificates of criminal records is the use that employers may make of them. Day in and day out in all the courts of this country judges are faced with the criminal records of people who have been convicted. By their training and experience they are accustomed to giving the correct weight to a particular conviction, whether it should be ignored, whether it is a matter of marginal relevance or whether it makes a difference to the way in which a particular individual should be treated.

These certificates will come new to employers, who will be looking at certificates and seeing convictions—perhaps serious convictions—which have not been spent and which may date back many years. They will not have the experience to be able to weigh one type of conviction against another. For example, we talked earlier about cautions and the significance of cautions. An employer faced with a certificate which refers to cautions will not know how seriously that should be taken.

Accordingly, a published code of practice which includes guidance on the effect that the contents of a certificate should have on an applicant's suitability would give that rule by which the employer can measure the significance of the certificate that he receives. For a large employer with a personnel department, no doubt these certificates will become commonplace; but the certificate may weigh a great deal more with the small employer who is recruiting individually than it would with the larger organisation. A code of practice which would give guidance to that person would be welcome and, I think, sensible.

9 p.m.

Lord Renton

I appreciate the noble Lord's intention in moving the amendment, but I find a real difficulty with it. The amendment requires the body which wishes to be registered to supply to the Home Secretary, prescribed details of its policy in respect of the recruitment and employment of persons". It may not have a policy. It is not obliged to have one. It may decide to play it by ear, week to week, according to circumstances. If it decides to have a policy, the policy may have to change from time to time, according to circumstances or according to the experience the body may have gained. It may have tried to be open minded, kind and helpful by taking on some people with convictions but found that in relation to its particular kind of work it just did not work.

Furthermore, sometimes registered bodies change their practices. They may find that in changing their practices the type of work that could not have been harmed by a convicted person in the past might be harmed by one in the future, according to the change of the operation of the registered body or the body that wants to become registered. I hope that my noble friend the Minister and the Government will not accept Amendment No. 125. It could cause immense confusion. I say that with deep respect because I appreciate the noble Lord's motive in moving it.

Amendment No. 106 is simply a paving amendment for Amendment No. 132A. Amendment No. 132A states: Any code of practice published under this Part shall include guidance to registered bodies on the effect that the contents of a certificate issued under this Part should have on the applicant's suitability for a relevant position". I have to come back to the idea of policy. In order to decide what that effect should be, one would have to consider what the policy was to be as to an applicant's suitability for a particular type of relevant position. That subsection creates something of a difficulty. However, I do not want to exaggerate it. I put it forward as something that ought to be considered.

The second subsection of Amendment No. 132A states: Any such guidance shall state that when asking an exempted question the registered body shall not have access to the relevant information until the initial recruitment procedure has taken place". The noble Lord has a point there. I do not know how the Government will react to it, but it is worth considering.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

As I said on the first day of Committee, I usually think that if I fail to make myself clear it must be my fault. However, when the noble Lord, Lord Renton, questions whether an organisation should have or could have a written policy and suggests that I am creating such a requirement, I have to say to him that in my opening speech, which was already too long, I quoted directly from the Government's White Paper, On the Record. In the draft code of practice, in paragraph 6, it states that the organisation, must have a written policy on the employment of ex-offenders and a written strategy for implementation of the policy". The requirement for a policy does not come from me; it comes from the Government.

Lord Renton: I can but apologise.

Baroness Blatch

Perhaps I may throw some more light on that. We have recognised that there is a need for guidance in this area. As those Members of the Committee who have read the code of practice in the White Paper, as no doubt the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, has done, will know, it contained a number of provisions relating to the employment of ex-offenders. While it remains our intention to issue this guidance to registered bodies, for some of the reasons given by my noble friend Lord Renton, it will not be possible to include it within the provisions of the code of practice.

The inclusion in the code of provisions requiring employers to have a policy on employment of ex-offenders would be tantamount to legislating for a right for ex-offenders not to be discriminated against in applying for employment because the amendment implies that the Secretary of State might refuse to register a body if he was not satisfied with its policy. It is not therefore possible to accept Amendment No. 125; nor is it possible to accept subsection (1) of Amendment No. 132A.

However, we intend to issue good practice advice relating to the employment of ex-offenders in conjunction with, but not as part of, the code itself. The guidance will include the importance of considering ex-offenders on their merits, the application of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, and the need to consider the relevance of an applicant's convictions to the post applied for. But it will not require employers to disregard convictions since it is for them to judge the relevance of a particular conviction to the post in question.

Clause 108 provides that any body which has failed to comply with the code may have its registration suspended. That is a powerful measure in the Bill. In drafting the Bill, we considered whether it would be necessary to place a requirement to abide by the code on the face of the Bill. We have decided that it is not necessary as it was implicit in the wording of Clause 108 which provides a sanction of suspension from the register if a body fails to comply with the code. It is an explicit form of words. It states: The Secretary of State may publish, and from time to time revise, a code of practice in connection with the use of information provided to registered bodies under this Part". Subsection (3) states: Where the Secretary of State considers that a registered body has failed to comply with a code of practice published under this section, he may by notice in writing to that body suspend its registration for such period as he may determine". The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, referred to an extra burden on the agency. Perhaps I may suggest to him that the extra burden will fall on the police and not on the agency, because it is the police who have to consider the element of local information and it will be the police who carry out the checks and not the agency.

Turning to the second part of Amendment No. 132A, the draft code of practice already states that criminal record checks will only be sought when a conditional offer of appointment has been made, unless overriding time pressures justify seeking such a check at the shortlisting stage. This amendment, on the face of it, is unclear in that it does not define what is meant by "initial recruitment", although when the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, spoke to it I noted that he referred to a much later stage in the recruitment process. But that is not implicit in the amendment. Therefore, the amendment as written could apply to the first sifting of applicants and might permit checks to be undertaken on considerably more job applicants than envisaged in the draft code. Therefore, without a definition, it is difficult to imagine what the noble Lord says pertains if this amendment were accepted.

Lord Renton

Before the noble Lord replies, may I briefly thank my noble friend for vindicating what I said. The truth is that I am not always over-zealous about reading White Papers because I know that they are merely for consideration and that the legislation which follows does not always follow the White Paper. As she has been so good as to say what she did, I hope that it will not be considered undignified if I withdraw my apologies.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank

I may have failed to understand what the Minister said, in which case I apologise. As I understand it, her argument is that Annex C to the White Paper, as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, said, provides for organisations having a written policy. As I understand her argument, that is sufficient, given that the Secretary of State, where he considers that a registered body has failed to comply with the code of practice, may suspend its registration. What is not clear to me—but this may be my shortcoming—is how the Secretary of State will discover whether a code of practice has not been complied with. If the Secretary of State has no code of practice from a registered body—which I understand will be the position—how does he know that it is not being complied with? If indeed a registered body has such a code of practice, by what measure will that information be known?

Baroness Blatch

It is not the registered body's code of practice; it is our code of practice.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank

I understand that. However, the amendment provides for writing on the face of the Bill a policy. I was referring to a policy and I apologise. I was saying that if the registered body is not required, as Amendment No. 125 requires, to provide the Secretary of State with a policy, whatever form it may take, how will he know that the registered body has failed to comply with the code when the code in paragraph (bb) requires a written policy?

Baroness Blatch

I referred to that. We believe that, on reflection, having put the matter out to consultation, including in the code provision for employers to have a policy on employment would be tantamount to legislating for a right—that may be what Members of the Committee opposite have in mind—for sex offenders not to be discriminated against in applying for employment, because the amendment implies that the Secretary of State might refuse to register a body if he was not satisfied with its policy. But there will be a code of practice. If it is found that a company or registered body does not comply with it, there is a mighty powerful measure in the Bill, and that is suspension from the register.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I do not believe that the noble Lord, Lord Renton, should have withdrawn his apology because I was still quoting directly from the Government's White Paper. The fact that the Minister has gone backwards from the White Paper is not an issue between myself and the noble Lord. In the hierarchy of legislation, as the noble Lord well knows, one starts with clauses on the statute, one moves to schedules and then down to regulations, followed by codes of practice. Now we have discovered a lower level of hell in that we have guidance issued supplementary to a code of practice for material which is not considered worthy of going into the code of practice. That is what has happened to this most important protection for the implementation of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.

I am sorry that the Minister has not only not gone as far as the amendments propose, but not even as far as her own White Paper provided. I do not consider that a code of practice is inadequate unless the Secretary of State is required to issue it. He is required to obtain compliance with it and to have sanctions if it is not complied with. I do not believe that Clause 108(3) is adequate when it refers only to the suspension of registration, when the damage may well have been done. It could have been put right in the first place, and that is what our amendments would do. But I do not wish to press them at this stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 126 not moved.]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 126A: Page 43, line 24, at end insert— ("( ) Notwithstanding subsection (2) above, every local authority shall be listed on the register maintained by the Secretary of State for the purposes of this Part.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment is straightforward. Indeed, it is referred to in the Government's response to the consultation paper after the White Paper. The amendment provides that instead of every local authority having to apply separately for registration—after all, there are over 500 local authorities in England alone—there should be automatic registration of every local authority on the register maintained by the Secretary of State for the purposes of this part of the Bill.

In their response the Government appeared to think that that would make it difficult to comply with administrative arrangements, such as updating nominated officers' signatures and monitoring compliance with the code of practice. The Committee should note the phrase, "monitoring compliance with the code of practice", which is what we were talking about a moment ago. Surely if it is accepted that we can cut out a whole layer of bureaucracy by having direct and automatic registration for local authorities, there should not be much difficulty in providing that, for example, the list of nominated signatories should be kept up to date.

The Deputy Prime Minister declares a bonfire of controls—as the Conservative Party does from time to time when it runs short of other arguments—yet the Home Office is creating a completely new bureaucratic process which is totally unnecessary. Local authorities are statutory bodies. Parliament has full control over them in determining changes to their statutory responsibilities. Parliament can take the responsibility for this into its own hands without any loss of any kind and thus remove much bureaucracy. I beg to move.

9.15 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

I have considerable reservations about this amendment. While its purpose is to ensure automatic registration for local authorities, its effect will be to include organisations in the register of bodies eligible to ask exempted questions under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act regardless of whether they will be asking exempted questions or have paid the registration fee. Although the majority of local authorities will be eligible to ask exempted questions, a few will not and they should not therefore have access to the higher level checks.

Registration will be the principal means by which control will be exercised over the disclosure and use made of criminal record information. This amendment, in providing automatic registration for local authorities, would considerably limit the ability properly to exercise this control. For example, any organisation wishing to register will be required to deposit a document signifying acceptance of the code of practice. Registered bodies will also need to supply details of nominated signatories which will be checked against countersignatures on applications for checks received via the registered body. The registration process will be the main method of ensuring that these requirements are met at the very outset by each and every body qualifying for registration. That is absolutely crucial if we are to exercise control over the risk of the wrong people working in such vulnerable situations.

The risk attached to automatic registration is that a local authority might easily forget to, for example, supply its nominated signatures and subsequently find, when applications for checks are submitted, that they cannot be processed. Officials acting on behalf of the Secretary of State could find themselves wasting a considerable amount of time chasing up local authorities which have failed to comply with the requirements of registration—a situation which would be avoided if all eligible bodies were required to go through the registration process. The cost of registration will be kept as low as is reasonable to cover administrative costs. We expect it to be between £15 and £20. Abolishing individual registration would not result in less work for local authorities or in maintaining an up-to-date record of nominated signatures.

Finally, I can see no good reason why special provision should be made for local authorities, and not any other organisation, to be automatically registered. Therefore, I hope that the amendment will not be pressed.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

With due respect to the Minister, that is bumbledom. That was the kind of answer that a Job's-worth would produce in order not to upset what appear to be convenient administrative procedures.

It is perfectly possible for a code of practice to ensure that a local authority has a duty to comply with whatever administrative arrangements the Secretary of State chooses to impose. It is perfectly possible—indeed, it is common sense—to say that each authority should have a named individual responsible for compliance and that the agency can work through that named individual.

There can be a requirement that if the named individual changes, the agency shall be updated. This is not an issue that is important enough to press. However, all the amendment seeks to do is to cut out a level of bureaucracy. I do not know why the Government find it in their heart to oppose it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 126B: Page 43, line 24, at end insert— ("(3A) No person may provide services on a commercial basis involving—

  1. (a) the manned guarding of premises;
  2. (b) the manned guarding of cash or other valuables in transit;
  3. (c) the supply and installation of security equipment and of alarm and access systems, and the operation of such systems, or
  4. (d) other related activities prescribed by the Secretary of State, who is not a registered body under this section.
(3B) A person to whom subsection (3A) applies shall, before employing any individual, require, and shall consider the contents of, a criminal record certificate relating to that individual and shall not appoint that individual unless it is satisfied that the contents of the certificate are consistent with that individual performing his duties in the relevant post in a fit and proper manner.").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 126B, to which I referred at Second Reading. I believe that it is of considerable importance and deserves attention. I said at Second Reading that power was required to ensure that private security firms were registered so that their customers, whether in the private or public sector, should have protection. At that time I had not worked out how to draft an amendment of that kind. I am by no means confident that the present drafting is perfect or fully inclusive. However, the local authority associations, to whom I am grateful, have tried to define private security services as those involving the manned guarding of premises, cash or other valuables in transit, the supply and installation of security equipment and of alarm and access systems, and other related activities prescribed by the Secretary of State.

The amendment provides that organisations of that kind which have obligations to their customers should become registered bodies for the purpose of this exercise and should be required to employ only individuals in respect of whom they are satisfied that the certificate is consistent with the performance of their duties in the relevant posts in a fit and proper manner. One could very well extend it. For example, outside London local authorities have an obligation to license taxis. Given the risks to passengers when taxis are driven by people with criminal records, it may be that the provision should be extended to them. However, perhaps we should start with the security industry.

This matter was recommended by the Home Affairs Select Committee of another place in May 1995. That committee said that there should be greater access to national criminal records as part of a vetting procedure and that a licensing system for individuals in the private security sector should be set up. If, as is clear from this part, it is for the benefit of employers that there should be protection against people who work in sensitive areas and are unsuitable because of past convictions, that applies very much to the private security industry and to its customers. I beg to move.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank

I support the spirit of the amendment. I do not know whether it is the right amendment in terms of wording; nor do I know why it appears here rather than as an amendment to Clause 102. I am also concerned about what checks there are to ensure that a body that wishes to be registered is a legitimate body and that such registration is a proper course to follow. One knows that with most registered bodies there will be no difficulty in deciding that they are fit and proper bodies to be registered and to exercise the powers under this Bill. I believe that some noble Lords have doubts not only about the employees of some security firms but about the security firms themselves. I am not sure what the proposal is either under the Bill or the amendment to ensure that those who choose to register are fit and proper bodies to be registered in any case.

Lord Renton

The fact that the application of the amendment is confined to those who are providing services on a commercial basis rather narrows it; for example, there are times when public bodies have cash and various things that need to be protected. It will not always be possible for the police to provide the manpower to do that. They may wish to provide civilians—if I may call them that—and it is desirable that such people should be chosen carefully. I see the motive for the amendment, and it is a good one, but it needs to be rethought.

The noble Lord and my noble friend may wish to consider whether the Bill already covers the point—it could be said to do so, but we want to be sure about that—or whether it needs to be amplified for consideration on Report so that people, whether or not working on a commercial basis who might be providing this type of service—for example, the manned guarding of premises when a hospital is being built—should be a registered body. That is a point that needs to be considered. It is a detailed and complicated Bill. The clauses we are considering, I must confess, overlap a bit, perhaps inevitably. As it stands, the amendment does not fit in well.

Baroness Blatch

Although I agree with much of what my noble friend said, I hope that my response to the issue, as opposed to the amendment, can be a little warmer.

The effect of Amendment No. 126B would be to ensure that only organisations registered with the Criminal Records Agency will be able to provide private security services. It would also be mandatory for such organisations to request criminal record certificates from prospective employees. Apart from the fact that the definition of the security industry set out in this amendment is rather wide—for example, most DIY stores sell alarms and would therefore be caught by this amendment—under our proposals only organisations eligible to ask exempted questions under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act will be able to apply for registered body status. The amendment could therefore only take effect if occupations in the private security sector were exceptions to that Act, but that is not the case at present.

The Government are aware of concerns that the private security industry should be regulated. We are not persuaded that the industry as a whole should be regulated or that it should be made an exception to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. We are though particularly concerned about the claims presented to the Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into the industry of individuals working in the contract manned guarding sector, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarrybank, despite having criminal records for serious offences which make them unsuitable for such employment.

We will shortly be issuing a consultation paper putting forward proposals for the regulation of this sector based on compulsory criminal record checks of those wishing to work as contract security guards. The issue of whether this sector alone should be made an exception to the Act will form part of the consultation process. That picks up one of the points made by the noble Lord about whether there are other groups.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Taxis.

Baroness Blatch

Should the outcome of these deliberations result in contract security guards being made an exception to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, companies providing such services will be eligible to register and to require criminal record certificates from prospective employees. That is the correct way to proceed and it would not in our view be sensible to pre-empt that consultation process by introducing provision of this kind at this stage in this Bill. I hope again, after a slightly warmer response to that point, that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

9.30 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. It makes good sense. I understand the point of putting the requirement on individuals rather than on companies. However, the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, has a valid point about criminals who band together to form private security firms. I believe that my amendment would have covered that because it can cover all employees, whether they are managerial or any other kind.

I was amused by the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, who queried the services on a commercial basis. If we took him literally and removed that part of the provision, the police would have to apply for certificates from themselves when undertaking any of these activities, which they frequently do—

Lord Renton

A little while ago the noble Lord's noble friend suggested that all local authorities should be of this kind. This is not very far removed.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I suggest that local authorities should be automatically registered, which moves in exactly the same direction. However, as the noble Lord will know, most of these activities of local authorities have been subject to compulsory competitive tendering and are undertaken on a commercial basis. I doubt whether many local authority employees undertake security services.

The promise of consultation is too good to refuse and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn. Clause 107 agreed to.

Clause 108 [Code of practice]:

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 127: Page 43, line 28, leave out ("may") and insert ("shall").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 127, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 129 to 132. The amendment has already proved necessary because on several occasions tonight the Minister confirmed that there will be a code of practice. However, it is not as far-ranging as was originally proposed.

Amendment No. 129 provides that the code of practice shall be subject to the affirmative resolution. As we do not have a code of practice and an up-to-date version to consider together with the Bill, that provision seems a necessary precaution for the protection of the interests of Parliament.

Amendment No. 130 refers to arrangements for the monitoring and inspection of compliance by registered bodies. That is in the draft code of practice and I hope that it will continue to apply.

Amendment No. 131 refers to the power to remove from the list those who do not comply with the code of practice. Earlier tonight the Minister confirmed that that would be the case.

Amendment No. 132 proposes as an alternative that there should be a financial penalty rather than removal from the list. As regards taking care of children or old people, for example, in some sectors the removal of a body from the register would be to put it out of business. It might be better to deal with a breach in a less destructive way by imposing a financial penalty on it in the first instance in the hope that that will ensure compliance.

Some of the measures in the code of practice have been put into the Bill. For example, Clause 106(5) deals with proceedings against the agency for inaccurate information, whereas paragraph 2 of the code requires users of information to indemnify the agency against any liability. The boundary between what should be in the code of practice and what should be in the Bill is always difficult to maintain, but we believe that this series of amendments strengthens the resolve of the Government to have an effective code of practice. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

I shall refer first to Amendment No. 127. It has always been our intention to provide the important safeguard of a code of practice. However, I am afraid that it is not possible to accept the amendment as the drafting is defective. It would require that the code "shall" also be revised without making clear the circumstances in which that would be necessary. Therefore, if the noble Lord will allow me, I should like to bring forward an amendment on Report to the effect that the code "shall" be published and "may" be revised.

As regards Amendment No. 129, it is right that the code of practice shall be properly considered. However, the draft code has already been published with the White Paper and has been the subject of a detailed consultation exercise. Views on the draft code were invited from employers, regulatory bodies, the police and voluntary organisations, as well as from those working with ex-offenders and from civil liberties groups. About 250 responses were received. Many useful drafting suggestions and points of detail were raised, some of which have already been incorporated in our proposals. We have sent a summary of the responses, and our comments on these, to all those who took part in the consultation exercise. The code of practice will need consolidation and further consultation and it is intended that this will be taken forward as part of the implementation phase of introducing the new arrangements. In view of this detailed and continuing consultation exercise, we expect that the final version of the code of practice will address the concerns raised by interested parties. For that reason, we do not believe that it will be necessary to make the code subject to affirmative resolution, although it will be laid before both Houses of Parliament before publication. The Select Committee on Delegated Powers has considered this proposal and has not queried whether our proposals in relation to the code are appropriate. I would therefore suggest that the arrangements which we are suggesting will provide sufficient scrutiny.

I turn now to Amendment No. 130. We have made provisions for sanctions should organisations or their employees fail to abide by the code of practice. As I said earlier, Clause 108 makes provision for the Secretary of State to suspend the registration of registered bodies which he considers have failed to abide by the code. In addition to this, sanctions exist in Clause 109 against individuals who breach the code by disclosing conviction information to those not entitled to it. A criminal offence will have been committed for which the penalty will be a level 3 fine, currently up to £1,000 or a term of imprisonment, or both.

We are attempting to introduce a simple and straightforward procedure which is as cost-effective as we can make it. Introducing an inspection and monitoring regime would add significantly to the red tape, the number of staff employed on the work and the overall charges. We are talking about millions of applications every year from thousands of organisations. I believe that the safeguards we have put in place will ensure that we have a way of dealing with abuse of the system and I am not persuaded that a complicated system of monitoring would be practical or indeed desirable.

However, I am rather puzzled by Amendment No. 131. If a registered body fails to comply with the code of practice, its registration may be suspended and it would, in effect, be removed from the register. Whether its name is deleted from the register or flagged to the effect that it has been suspended are administrative details which will need to be considered when the criminal records agency is set up. What is of paramount importance is that organisations which are unable to safeguard the criminal record information that they receive should not be sent any further information until they are able to demonstrate that they can abide by the code of practice. I believe that the clause as it stands makes adequate provision in that respect.

The final amendment in the group would make provision for registered bodies which fail to comply with the code of practice to pay a fine as an alternative to being suspended from the register. Adequate safeguards for the individual whose criminal record is being disclosed are of course essential. We have sought to make provision for these within the Bill. I am not convinced that imposing a fine on a registered body will necessarily ensure its future compliance with the code to the same extent as suspension of registration will.

As I said earlier, this is a very powerful measure. For many organisations, such as care homes, registered body status will undoubtedly be something of a marketable commodity and they would not want to risk losing that. I am puzzled as to how the decision whether to levy a fine or suspend registration will be made and what safeguards will exist to ensure equality in the decision-making process. I hope that some of those practical responses to the suggested amendments will enable the noble Lord to withdraw them.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am grateful in particular for the response to Amendment No. 127. I accept with thanks the commitment of the Government to bring forward their own corrected amendment on that point. As regards the subsequent amendments, I had thought that Amendment No. 130 did no more than recognise what the draft code of practice in the White Paper stated. As I recall, the draft code stated that: Any alleged failure to abide by the provisions of the code of practice may be the subject of investigation by the Agency and. if substantiated, could result in withdrawal of access … to criminal record information". Surely that implies the kind of monitoring and inspection procedures which are proposed in Amendment No. 130.

Amendments Nos. 131 and 132 are alternatives. We are leaving it to the agency to decide whether the strong sanction—as the Minister describes it—of deregistration is appropriate in cases where putting the organisation out of business (because that is what it would do) is the appropriate action to take. In the first instance, a fine might be more appropriate. It might ensure compliance without endangering the services which the organisation provided to young people in particular. However, I can see there is scope for further discussion on the wording of all of those amendments. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 128: Page 43, line 30, at end insert ("and the use of information contained in criminal conviction certificates").

The noble Lord said: This is a simple amendment. The Bill may not mean what it states. As we have said, Clause 108 refers to the publication and revision of a code of practice but it refers only to, the use of information provided to registered bodies".

In other words, it refers only to activities under Clauses 101 and 102. The amendment would extend it to cover criminal conviction certificates under Clause 100. As the draft code of practice set out in the White Paper frequently refers to criminal conviction certificates under the previous main use for them, it would seem appropriate that the code of practice, as set out in the Bill, should also cover them. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

It is difficult to see how this amendment would work in practice because criminal conviction certificates will be issued to individuals only and it will be for the individuals to decide whether to show the information to an employer or to anyone else who wishes to see it. Therefore the criminal records agency will have no record of those people or organisations who might be shown an individual's criminal conviction certificate. In view of the potential numbers involved—perhaps as many as 5 million criminal conviction certificates might be issued each year—it is unlikely that a workable system could be introduced to ensure that those requesting sight of a CCC have signed up to the code of practice and complied with its provisions.

If we were to attempt to do this, all organisations would need to be registered, together with their nominated signatories, and the sheer weight of numbers would add to the bureaucracy of issuing certificates and of course to their cost. Nevertheless, I can assure the noble Lord that we intend to issue guidance for employers on the use of criminal conviction certificates. The guidance will be based upon that which is given in the draft code of practice which was published in the White Paper, On the Record, and its associated guidance. It will cover matters such as the need to take account of the relevance of previous convictions to the post in question, the length of time which has elapsed since offences were committed, the age of the applicant at the time of the offence and the career history of the applicant since being convicted. It will also cover matters such as the need to keep information confidential and who in an organisation should have access to it during recruitment.

Again, I hope that that is a practical way of responding to what otherwise, according to the amendment, would be a very bureaucratic procedure to introduce.

9.45 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I was not suggesting that all the code of practice which applies to registered bodies would apply to criminal conviction certificates under Clause 100. But many aspects do so. I refer to the fact that a conviction will not automatically debar an individual from employment, and to such factors as whether the conviction is relevant to the employment in question, the length of time since the offence occurred, whether the applicant has a pattern of convictions, and so on. As the amendment suggests, all those should be elements in a code of practice.

If the Minister proposes to downgrade the matter one step in the hierarchy, making it guidance to employers, then that is better than nothing. I assume that the guidance to which the Minister referred may cover, for example, discouragement from use of the Data Protection Act in place of Clause 100. I note that the Liberal Democrat Benches are empty, and the point cannot be made to those who are most concerned with that issue. On the basis of the guidance which has been offered, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 129 to 132A not moved.]

[Amendment No. 133 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Clause 108 agreed to.

Clause 109 [Offences]:

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon moved Amendment No. 134: Page 44, line 10, leave out from ("body") to end of line 13.

The noble Baroness said: The amendment is grouped with Amendment No. 135. They deal with slightly different issues, although the matter of disclosure of information relates to them both.

Amendment No. 134 is intended to probe the situation of the education services and school governors. It may not have been immediately apparent to the Minister that that is the point of the amendment. If it is not clear to her, I should be happy for her to write to me.

The issue relates to whether school governors are people who form a constituent body and, therefore, should be the registered body; or whether the local education authority is the registered body. If the local education authority is the registered body, is it entitled to pass information to school governors when they are selecting school teachers? Should school governors be subject to some form of criminal certificate, as they are quite clearly people who have dealings with young people under 18? It is possible that those issues have not been addressed. Alternatively, the Minister may be able to satisfy us as regards bodies in relation to education.

Amendment No. 135 is much simpler. It states that, A member, officer or employee of a relevant police force or any person acting on behalf of the Secretary of State"—

which we understand to be the criminal record agency— commits an offence if he discloses information provided under section 101 or 102".

There has been an increasing practice, particularly with ease of accessing records on computers, for such information to be sold to various security firms or people doing unofficial checks in relation to prospective employees. That is quite clearly an extremely undesirable practice. The intention of creating a specific criminal offence is to deter police officers and other people who may have access to such information not only in relation to employment checks but also for sale to newspapers and so on. It seemed to us appropriate that there should be a specific offence rather than just having an offence under the police discipline code as at present. I regret that the intention of Amendment No. 134 may not have been apparent. Had I realised, I would have given prior notice to the Minister. She may well wish to take time to reply to that particular aspect.

Baroness Blatch

I find Amendment No. 134 a little puzzling. But I accept the point made by the noble Baroness that it is probing and is a way of flushing out what the provisions in the Bill are.

Clause 107 provides that bodies which register with the Criminal Records Agency may do so in order to seek information on behalf of other bodies eligible to ask their employees to apply for criminal records certificates or enhanced criminal records certificates. The purpose of this provision is to assist smaller employers and organisations which may find it administratively convenient to channel applications for criminal record checks through a lead body which is registered to act on their behalf. Two examples spring immediately to mind. One is the WRVS, which works through a whole network of bodies; and perhaps the scout movement, which has been very much under debate today, where there is already a centralised system governing information which is then used within that organisation, and used entirely properly.

If a registered body is applying for criminal record checks on behalf of another body, it is necessary for the registered body to disclose it to the body on behalf of which it is acting. This amendment would prevent that from being done.

As regards Amendment No. 135, sanctions already exist for improper disclosure of computerised information. A person would be guilty of committing offences under either the Data Protection Act 1984 or the Computer Misuse Act 1990 if he or she obtained unauthorised access or disclosed information to a person not entitled to receive it. The position is rather different in the case of local police records held in manual form since such records are not covered by either of those Acts. However, it would not be practical to make it an offence to disclose information from these manual records since they are being held by the police for purposes other than use in criminal record checks and need to be available for disclosure in circumstances connected with the prevention or detection of crime. Disclosure from police manual records in connection with a criminal record check will be made only on the authority of a senior police officer, and a police officer or public servant who disclosed such information without authorisation would be subject to disciplinary action.

The noble Baroness used the particular example of a governing body. My understanding is that the governing body would not be authorised to pass the information down to other governing bodies; they would be separate institutions. However, I should like to take that particular point away and reflect on it. If I have anything more to say to the noble Baroness, I will communicate in writing and make any letter available to all Members of the Committee.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon

I am grateful to the Minister for that response. Will she also cover the point as to whether school governors will need to obtain certificates?

Baroness Blatch

Did I not say school governors? I meant to say that.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon

The Minister said "governing bodies"; however, I was not sure whether that meant that individual school governors would need to obtain criminal records.

In the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 135 not moved.]

Clause 109 agreed to.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 136: After Clause 109, insert the following new clause— CONSEQUENCES OF PART V FOR POLICE AUTHORITIES ("The Secretary of State shall in respect of each year in which any of sections 100 to 108 have effect, and within three months of the end of the financial year concerned, lay before Parliament a statement as to the financial, staffing and operational consequences for police authorities of the requirements of this Part.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment arises from the financial and manpower memorandum which precedes the Bill. The Financial Memorandum states that: The police will be recompensed for their part in the work saving them about £3.2 million".

I believe that "recompensed" is not a definite word, it could be in part or in full. We should like to be sure that they are recompensed in full. Also, the saving of £3.2 million is a saving on what? Is it a saving on existing expenditure or what would otherwise be the expenditure, based on the number of checks which are expected in the phasing-in period and the ultimate full operation of the system?

On public service manpower, the memorandum states: Up to 400 staff could be employed providing criminal record information in the first year of operation but it is intended that this would increase in line with demand".

That is presumably the staff of the criminal records agency. The memorandum continues: The service to be provided is completely new and there is not expected to be any compensating loss of posts elsewhere".

Surely there should be some estimate of the effect on police manpower, as the Minister has already said that it is the police who would do the work of extracting the information in the first place, and how that will proceed as the system is more fully implemented.

In the amendment we say modestly that the Secretary of State should publish: a statement as to the financial, staffing and operational consequences for police authorities of the requirements of this part".

They should do so within three months of the end of each financial year. As the Financial Memorandum acknowledges, on manpower there are considerable implications, the effects of which are not yet known. It is right that police authorities should have an opportunity to benefit from the Government's assessment of the effect that there will be on the finance, staffing and operations for police authorities. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

I am amused by the amendment because it takes on a new significance in light of the amendment passed earlier this afternoon. I suspect that there will be a great deal of interest in the costs, not only those which will now be phenomenal as a result of completely waiving the fees, but where the money will come from to fund them. In a Machiavellian way, I am almost tempted to accept the amendment, but I shall not. I shall act responsibly and say that the police authorities already provide the Secretary of State with a raft of information on operations and resources in their policing plans and annual reports. To require them to supply an additional report to the Home Secretary on the financial implications of the supply of criminal record information will impose a further burden on them which I would be surprised if they welcomed.

Furthermore, I see no good reason why the information need be laid before Parliament, given that this is not the procedure for police authority policing plans and annual reports. While I accept the principle that the Secretary of State should be informed of the financial implications for the police of these new arrangements—and I would expect those to fall in the police's favour, given that for the first time they will be reimbursed for criminal record information provided for pre-employment vetting checks—I should prefer to treat the information in the same way as the other information supplied by the police to the Secretary of State. I should expect that police authorities would wish to include it in their existing annual reports and policing plans.

As I said earlier, I think that the police will be as interested as I shall about where Members opposite suggest the money should be found, as we have now given to a large number of people a concession which I believe cannot be afforded.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

If the Minister is tempted to accept the amendment, it will cause no difficulty with us. The amount of additional expenditure and bureaucracy involved in producing such a report is pretty minimal. The object of the amendment is not to inform the Secretary of State but to oblige him to inform police authorities about the implications of the Bill on them. That would be relevant, whether or not Amendment No. 103 and the consequent amendments had been carried. The same position applies. I am sorry that the Minister has not yielded to her Machiavellian impulses, but I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 136.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clauses 110 to 118 agreed to.

10 p.m.

Clause 119 [Commencement]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 137: Page 48, line 41, at end insert— ("( ) Any day appointed by an order under this section for the coming into force of section 89, 90 or 91 of this Act shall not be earlier than the day on which a code of practice issued under section 92 comes into operation.").

The noble Baroness said: I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 95. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 119, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 120 agreed to.

Clause 121 [Extent]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 138: Page 49, line 9, leave out ("(2) and (3)") and insert ("(2) to (4)").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment was spoken to with Amendment No. 25. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 121, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 122 agreed to.

Schedule 9 [Minor and Consequential Amendments]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendments Nos. 139 to 141: Page 73, line 10, after ("(2)") insert ("of this section"). Page 73, line 20, after ("(7)") insert ("of this section"). Page 79, line 43, at end insert— ("In section 65A (which was inserted by section 3 of the Local Government and Rating Act 1997 and makes provision about Crown property), in subsection (4)(b) for the words from "or by a police authority" to the end there shall be substituted ", a police authority established under section 3 of the Police Act 1996, the Service Authority for the National Criminal Intelligence Service or the Service Authority for the National Crime Squad.").

The noble Baroness said: These amendments were spoken to with Amendment No. 25. I beg to move the amendments en bloc.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 142: Page 81, line 42, at end insert— ("Tribunals and Inquiries Act 1992 (c.53) —(1) In section 7 of the Tribunals and Inquiries Act 1992, in subsection (2), after "36A" there shall be inserted "(a) or (b)".

46. In Schedule 1 to that Act, in Part I, at the end of paragraph 36A (which becomes sub-paragraph (a)) there shall be inserted—
("(b) An appeals tribunal constituted in accordance with an order under section (Appeals: Part 1)(2) of the Police Act 1997 (c.00) and an appeals tribunal constituted in accordance with Schedule 6 to the Police Act 1996 as applied by section (Appeals: Part II)(2) of the Police Act 1997.")

The noble Baroness said: This amendment was spoken to with Amendment No. 37. I beg to move. On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 143 not moved.]

Baroness Blatch moved Amendments Nos. 144 and 145: Page 83, line 35, leave out ("section 9(2)(6)") and insert ("section 9(2)(a)"). Page 83, line 39, leave out ("section 54(2)(6)") and insert ("section 54(2)(a)").

The noble Baroness said: These amendments were spoken to with Amendment No. 13. I beg to move Amendments Nos. 144 and 145 en bloc.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 9, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 10 agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with amendments. House adjourned at four minutes past ten o'clock.