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Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) rose--

Mr. Howard: I give way to the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay)

Mr. Mackinlay: The seal of confession does not relate exclusively to Roman Catholics; it is held in high regard by the Anglican communion and by many other faiths, which have comparable counselling by religious ministers to their flocks. Will the Home Secretary undertake that such pastoral conversations, which have hitherto been held by democratic states to be of the utmost confidentiality, will be excluded from the surveillance provisions? Will there be privilege both for the sacrament of confession and for the traditional conversations between pastors and their flocks? Will that be in the code of practice?

Mr. Howard: I can certainly give an undertaking carefully to consider the hon. Gentleman's point and see to what extent we can take it on board in the code of practice. I suspect that there may be problems of definition which could give rise to some difficulty.

Mr. Shepherd: Does my right hon. and learned Friend think that Home Office guidelines, of which some of us were unaware, deposited in front of the House, can make lawful that which is unlawful or override common or statute law? That is the nub of the question. He is having to make it lawful because Home Office guidelines were not good enough cover. As upholder of our law and order, he must have regard to that which is lawful. Therefore, his response on guidelines is not good enough. The Home Office is trying to convert that which is currently unlawful under statute and common law into that which is lawful.

Mr. Howard: My hon. Friend is quite right to say that Home Office guidance cannot do any of the things that he said it could not do--I entirely agree with him about that. The point that I was making in answer to the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) was in response to his assertion that the exercise of these powers over the years has been found to be unacceptable. That is a much more contentious assertion. The truth of the matter is that these powers have been exercised over many decades without giving rise to any widespread concern. I accept that it is

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preferable that they should be put on a proper statutory basis, with proper safeguards and that is why they are included in the Bill.

The provisions in part IV of the Bill to place the police information technology organisation on an independent tripartite footing have been well received on all sides--perhaps I ought to add, so far. We need to gain the maximum benefit from information technology and these new arrangements will help PITO to achieve its objective of providing the information technology and communications that best meet the needs of the police service

If we are to secure the maximum benefits from IT for the police service, we must make sure that we have the right structures in place to achieve that goal. PITO was set up on a non-statutory basis in April 1996. Much has already been done to create a more customer-focused organisation, but one important further step needs to be taken. By establishing PITO as an executive non- departmental public body, it will be possible to bring the chief officers and police authority associations into the heart of decision making.

Part V of the Bill contains provisions which bring into effect the proposals for access to criminal records for employment and related purposes that were set out in the White Paper "On the Record" which was published in June last year. Those proposals will put in place a coherent, transparent and fair system of access to criminal records for employment and related purposes. It will offer better protection to vulnerable groups and reassure employers that the information they are given about an applicant's criminal record is complete and accurate.

Mr. Benn: Will the Home Secretary give way? I wrote to him on this very point last year.

Mr. Howard: The right hon. Gentleman has not given me much time to get into my speech, but I will give way.

Mr. Benn: I wanted to give the Home Secretary the chance to answer this question in the body of his speech. First, if I applied for a job, could I require my employer to give me details of any criminal conviction so that I knew I would not be working for a drug dealer or a corrupt employer? Or is it only employers who can get such information about possible employees? Secondly, can the right hon. and learned Gentleman reassure me that all the information gathered by bugging and surveillance will be handed over to the European Union as part of the security arrangements reached with the European Union about the exchange of police information? This measure is not only about the relationship between the citizen and the British Government, but about the relationship between the citizen and the European security arrangements that the Home Secretary is setting up.

Mr. Howard: On the right hon. Gentleman's first point, I can give him an assurance that if the employer's work brings him into contact with vulnerable people in the way that is covered by the provisions of the Bill the employer himself will be covered by the provisions of the Bill in exactly the same way as anybody else whose employment brings them into contact with vulnerable persons will be covered.

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On the second point--and this is a most important point--I can certainly give an assurance that, so long as there is a Conservative Government, the consequences that the right hon. Gentleman fears from the extension of this information to authorities of the European Union will not take place. However, I can give him no assurance that that will not happen if we were to have a Labour Government, since the shadow Foreign Secretary said only last week that he would accept the extension of majority voting into matters now covered by the third pillar arrangements of the European Union. That is the answer to the right hon. Gentleman's question. If he is concerned about these matters, he should address those concerns to his own Front Benchers and not to the Government.

Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn): Perhaps I may repeat for the benefit of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) a similar undertaking: in no sense will we allow such information to be passed to the European Union. As the Home Secretary well knows, we are committed to ensuring that all matters which come within the third pillar remain intergovernmental and therefore not subject to majority voting.

Mr. Howard: I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman has not seen the latest press release issued by his right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary. We shall have to help the hon. Gentleman by making that information available to him. I am afraid that the shadow Foreign Secretary has acknowledged beyond peradventure that, if this country is headed by a Labour Government at the intergovernmental conference due to take place at the end of June, concessions will be made that will do away with our veto, not only in areas that have specifically been identified, but in relation to justice and home affairs. It is absolutely clear, and the country should be aware, that that would be the consequence of a Labour Government if we were ever to have one.

We intend to set up a criminal records agency, accountable to the Home Office, to undertake the work for England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In Scotland, the work will be undertaken by the Scottish criminal record office. Those bodies will be able to issue three types of certificate.

The first type of certificate will be a criminal conviction certificate. These will be issued to individuals only and will give details of their convictions recorded in central police records that are not spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. It will be for applicants and employers to decide when it is reasonable to require such a certificate to be produced.

The second type of certificate will be a criminal record certificate. These will contain details of spent and unspent convictions and cautions and will be available only for those occupations, such as doctors, nurses, teachers and prison officers, which are exceptions to the 1974 Act. A joint application will be made by the individual and the organisation seeking the check. The individual and the employer will be sent a copy of the certificate.

The third type of certificate will be an enhanced criminal record certificate. Initially, these certificates will be available only for those working on a regular, unsupervised basis with children; for certain licensing purposes; and for judges and magistrates prior to

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appointment. As well as information on convictions and cautions, enhanced certificates will include non- conviction information from local police records, where that might be relevant to the post being sought. A copy of the certificate will be sent to the individual and the employer. In very exceptional circumstances, where on-going or future police investigations might be prejudiced, the information from the local police check will be provided only to the employer.

The Bill also makes provision for regulations to be made that will enable enhanced checks to be extended to those who work with vulnerable adults.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton): Would a long-term unemployed person be expected to pay as much as a tenner for the criminal conviction certificate, and how frequently would he be expected to provide an updated certificate?


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