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Mr. Michael: I have some concerns about the amendment and shall listen carefully to the Minister's reply. Some of the concerns expressed by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) are sensible in terms both of rehabilitation of offenders and of what should be the priorities, but I am not sure that they lead to the delay suggested in the amendment.

The priorities should be clear. The top priority must be the protection of children and vulnerable adults. I hope that the Minister would agree. The provisions of the Bill

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must be co-ordinated with the requirements of the Sex Offenders Act 1997 and the work of child protection at local level. Careful thought must be given to the way in which we should use the various pieces of legislation, each of which takes us a step further forward.

That is not the only issue that would be addressed by the checks for which the measure provides. A further element is honesty and integrity, which may be important not just to the employer, but to the public. The third element is the situation in the private security industry, which has been a matter of great concern over a considerable period.

We must ensure that employees in the private security industry do not have long criminal records. In Committee I gave an example of employers with a criminal record. A police superintendent told me about a partnership between someone with a record for grievous bodily harm and someone with a record for financial offences. In a business sense they may make a fine team, but in terms of the public interest, they are a dangerous team to run a private security firm. There must be protection against such employers, and in fairness, the industry wants regulation to protect the good name of firms that are doing a good job.

The private security industry is a case where information about a past record, not necessarily involving financial irregularities, is important and should be available as quickly as possible in the form of ordinary certificates, not necessarily the enhanced information that the Bill would make available.

We want the protection of children and vulnerable adults treated as the first priority. Thereafter, there may be a good deal of sense in implementing the Bill progressively, rather than adopting a big bang approach. There are examples of several Government agencies and initiatives where trying to do everything at once led to mistakes in details, which might have been discovered at an early stage but which brought down the entire system. The Minister would be wise to ponder that, and consider the timing of the introduction of the measure.

Part of the suggestion made in the amendment therefore has some attraction, but I am not happy that it specifies a period of two years after the full implementation of one part of the measure. That would narrow down and potentially delay the introduction of provisions in the Bill, with no clear justification. It might be more sensible to reconsider the time scale for implementation. We were not given much detail about that in Committee. Perhaps the matter has not been thought through to the extent that would allow a detailed time scale to be set out for the implementation of this part of the Bill.

For those reasons, I hope that the Minister will reassure us about the way in which the Bill is to be implemented and the amount of thought that has been given to that, without going so far as to accept the specific constraints for which the amendment provides.

Many people are anxious that we should achieve the right balance between the rehabilitation of offenders and ensuring that those with a criminal record who are likely to reoffend do not get into positions where they can prey on the public generally, and on children and vulnerable adults in particular. I have worked with young people who have been involved in offending, and I have had people working with me as a result of good work by the probation service on rehabilitating people after offending.

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Individuals with that background can become valued members of society if they are given the opportunity to change their ways and to earn the respect and rehabilitation that should be open to anyone. The task is to get the balance right.

The Bill's implementation could achieve the right balance or it could introduce dangers. I hope that the Minister will say that, like me, he wants to ensure that in building in protections rehabilitation will be achieved, and that the proper balance lies within the thinking through of how we implement the Bill, which is intended to protect and assist the public.

Mr. Kirkhope: I hope that I have been fair to the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) in responding to the amendments. The amendments would delay the introduction of criminal conviction certificates and it might be suggested that they have been tabled because the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues--this is the impression that they have given--greatly distrust the certificates. The issue has been much debated during the Bill's passage through both Houses.

I wish to assure the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed again that CCCs will not be as intrusive and unwelcome as he suggests. The certificates will be issued only to the individual who makes the application. They will contain only details of unspent convictions, which is entirely consistent with our commitment to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, which has been referred to by the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael). The certificates will enable employers to confirm that the information that they have been given by an applicant is full and accurate.

I would be amazed if employers taking on an employee did not want to be provided with full information about the prospective employee. The nature of the relationship between employer and employee is one of trust. Nothing could be worse than a situation in which an employer was not fully aware of the background of the person he is about to employ.

The introduction of the certificates is likely to be phased in after the introduction of the other two types of certificate. The hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth asked me to ponder about the timing of the introduction, and I have been pondering for some time. It is clear that the fledgling agency should not be flooded with applicants from the outset. I agree that it must be able initially to concentrate on issuing the more important and probably less numerous criminal record and enhanced criminal record certificates.

However, the eventual introduction of CCCs is an administrative matter concerned with workload and timing, and not as the right hon. Gentleman suggested. It will be done when it is considered that the agency will be able to manage the extra work. In all likelihood, it will be phased in at a slightly later time than the other certificates.

Mr. Rowe: I hope that my hon. Friend will take into account the real need for educating employers about the value of the information in the certificates. As the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) has said, the rehabilitation of young men, particularly,

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often takes place as a consequence of obtaining employment. Many employers have experience of taking on people with one conviction and finding that there is nothing wrong with them. I hope that we shall consider carefully preparing employers for the information that they will be seeking.

Mr. Kirkhope: I am sure that my hon. Friend is right. It is necessary for employers to take an intelligent approach towards these matters. They do so in the vast majority of cases now with information that they have requested and received. I hope that that attitude will continue when the certificates are available.

I have listened carefully to what the right hon. Gentleman has said but I do not accept that it is necessary for my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament an evaluation of the initial success of criminal record and enhanced record certificates before any CCCs can be issued. The introduction of CCCs is not dependent upon the perceived success of the other certificates. These will be different types of checks that will be carried out for very different purposes, and it is unlikely that the effects of criminal record and enhanced criminal record certificates will tell us much about how CCCs will be used.

During the Bill's passage the purpose and nature of all three types of certificate have received full parliamentary scrutiny. We shall, of course, keep the operations of the agency and the extent to which criminal record certificates meet the purposes for which they have been created under review. But by delaying the introduction of CCCs by at least two years, which is the right hon. Gentleman's intent by means of the amendments, we may be delaying the implementation of a new criminal record system that, we believe, will be coherent, cost-effective, transparent and, above all, fair. For these reasons, I ask the right hon. Gentleman not to press the amendments.

5.15 pm

Mr. Beith: The Minister might have come close to persuading me to withdraw the amendment. He revealed that one of its effects would not be very far from what will in fact happen. He revealed that it is the Government's intention that the enhanced certificates--those dealing with the urgent cases in respect of paedophiles and those who will be employed in residential homes and have access to the vulnerable--must be given priority and that the agency must get on in dealing with them. The introduction of the general conviction certificate is likely to be some time after the enhanced certificates have been dealt with. The two years that is stated in the amendment, which the Minister considers to be a long delay, might well turn out to be reality.

It became clear that I had to press the amendment when the Minister said that there will be an administrative decision. It is not an administrative matter. We are talking of a fundamental change in our society. That will be the position when a prospective employee cannot get a job anywhere without producing a piece of paper showing whether or not he has a criminal conviction. In that way, we have changed our society beyond recognition, and in the process, I believe, we shall greatly impair the rehabilitation of offenders, and especially of young people whose only offence may have been to get into a fight

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outside a pub at a time when they were less responsible than they have since become. However, they will still have to produce a piece of paper.

We are talking about a profound change and one on which Parliament should decide. We should reflect on the experience of using new and better certificates to deal with the special cases of people whose work is with the vulnerable or who work in the security industry. Let us then decide whether the proposals before us remain particular to certain types of employment or to every person applying for whatever job throughout the country. There is nothing in the Bill that will affect so many people as the provisions that we are now considering. Parliament should return to the issue. I shall therefore press the amendment.

The House divided: Ayes 26, Noes 271.

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