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Standing Committee Debates

Draft Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) (Amendment) (England and Wales) Order 2006

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. Bill Olner
Brown, Lyn (West Ham) (Lab)
Buck, Ms Karen (Regent's Park and Kensington, North) (Lab)
Campbell, Mr. Alan (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)
Clarke, Mr. Kenneth (Rushcliffe) (Con)
Clegg, Mr. Nick (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD)
Cox, Mr. Geoffrey (Torridge and West Devon) (Con)
David, Mr. Wayne (Caerphilly) (Lab)
Fabricant, Michael (Lichfield) (Con)
Featherstone, Lynne (Hornsey and Wood Green) (LD)
Garnier, Mr. Edward (Harborough) (Con)
Gwynne, Andrew (Denton and Reddish) (Lab)
Heyes, David (Ashton-under-Lyne) (Lab)
Mactaggart, Fiona (Slough) (Lab)
Sutcliffe, Mr. Gerry (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department)
Thornberry, Emily (Islington, South and Finsbury) (Lab)
Wright, Mr. Iain (Hartlepool) (Lab)
Young, Sir George (North-West Hampshire) (Con)
Mark Oxborough, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Seventh Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

Thursday 6 July 2006

[Mr. Bill Olner in the Chair]

Draft Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) (Amendment) (England and Wales) Order 2006

2.30 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) (Amendment) (England and Wales) Order 2006.
I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Olner, and hope this important issue will be resolved quickly and fairly.
The draft order was laid before Parliament on 12 June 2006. The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 allows ex-offenders not to disclose certain old, spent convictions in an effort to improve their employment opportunities with the effect of reducing reoffending. The Act also makes it unlawful for record-keeping bodies such as the Criminal Records Bureau to disclose details of such convictions.
The Act grants powers to the Secretary of State to exclude application of those general rules in relation to questions by particular employers, bodies and proceedings. The rationale is to ensure that employers and bodies offering sensitive positions, professions and licences can access an applicant’s full criminal history before reaching a decision.
That power was exercised in 1975 when the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) Order came into force. The 1975 order has been amended periodically to ensure that the criminal disclosure regime keeps pace with changes in employment and public risk. The most recent amendment was made in 2003. The current amendment seeks to introduce technical changes as well as a limited number of substantive changes to the 1975 order.
Ministers made a commitment last September to exempt some in-house football stewards from the need to be licensed under the Private Security Industry Act 2001. We therefore seek to amend the 1975 order to give the CRB the legal authority to carry out checks on football stewards at the request of the Football Association or premier league. Lord Pendry recently tabled an amendment to the Violent Crime Reduction Bill which would exclude football stewards from the 2001 Act. The Government are considering that, along with responses received to a recent consultation on the licensing of security staff at sports events, and will decide whether exemption remains the best course of action. In the meantime, this amendment is needed to meet our commitment to introduce CRB checks before the new football season starts.
This amendment will ensure that the 1975 order maintains its function as a safeguarding counterbalance to the rights that ex-offenders enjoy under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act so that those applying for the sensitive positions mentioned in the amendment can be more securely vetted, and decisions will be fully informed and based on past criminal history.
2.33 pm
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): I join the Minister in welcoming you to our deliberations this afternoon, Mr. Olner. I shall endeavour to be as brief and concise as the hon. Gentleman was.
On the face of it, the order is a perfectly sensible and, in some respects, utterly harmless amendment to the existing regime. It adds a number of jobs to the exceptions to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 for, no doubt, perfectly sensible reasons. However, it allows us to highlight, if only briefly, three issues which are, although not strictly germane to the order, worth highlighting.
The Chairman: But they are not too far away from the order.
Mr. Garnier: No, I shall not stray at all far, Mr. Olner.
I thank the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) for her work when she was Prisons Minister. It is not an easy job and she did her very best bearing in mind the difficulties of her Department. I mean that in nothing other than a proper sense. She may agree that the whole ambit of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act is ripe for review. This amendment may be sensible within the current regime, but ex-offenders are more likely to reoffend if they cannot get a job. It seems to me that whatever one can do through legislation to make it easier for reformed offenders to be employed needs to be considered. Now that the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe) has that particular responsibility, I hope that he will have some thoughtful ideas on how to make it easier for ex-offenders to get back into employment.
Secondly, in relation to CRB checks, we all know that over the past few years the bureau has not exactly been a beacon of excellence. Anything that I can do to encourage the Government to improve the management and administration, and therefore the effectiveness, of the bureau is worth doing.
One of the provisions deals with home inspectors. I sometimes find things genuinely funny, and sometimes the Government simply amuse me. Home information packs are a disaster waiting to happen. I cannot let this occasion go by without sighing about the fact that the Government have provoked me into talking about home information packs—
The Chairman: Order. They are not the subject of the order.
Mr. Garnier: I do not want to be excessively tiresome, but annex A to the explanatory memorandum, headed “Position/employment”, says at paragraph (v):
“Home Inspectors—The Housing Act 2004 will require, from 2007, that someone selling a residential property must have a valid home information pack”
and so on. I do not want to prolong the debate, as the subject is not of interest to everybody, but the order allows us to highlight those three areas of concern, which are probably shared across the Committee. Ex-offenders need a little more assistance; the CRB needs a lot more assistance; and the Government need all the help they can get in trying to persuade me that home inspectors are going to do a useful task in introducing the home information pack.
That having been said, I shall sit down. I shall not be urging my right hon. and hon. Friends to divide the Committee, although I am open to persuasion should others think it appropriate.
2.37 pm
Lynne Featherstone (Hornsey and Wood Green) (LD): May I say how pleased I am, Mr. Olner, to serve under your chairmanship?
There is a delicate balance to be drawn between the need to employ ex-offenders and the need to protect the public. Much of what I would have said today was recently raised in another place. However, it is important to be assured that those working in sensitive positions have a record that is appropriate to the job for which they are applying.
I do not object to the order, but I would welcome clarification on a couple of issues. Although the issue of contractors and subcontractors was debated in the other place, I would like further clarification on whether the public can be assured that the new powers and duties will be undertaken in an adequate manner, and on whether training will be provided.
The amendment of schedule 3 refers to section 142 of the Education Act 2002. In any job to do with schooling or education, sensitivities are even more heightened. I do not understand why it has taken so long to make such an amendment. Does one always have to wait three years before overall amendments can be made to Acts, or could it have been done sooner? In media terms, anything related to schools or children is of the utmost importance. I would welcome the Minister’s comments on that. Otherwise, I see no problems in supporting the order.
2.40 pm
Mr. Sutcliffe: I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman and the hon. Lady for their contributions. I also congratulate my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Slough, on the work that she did in laying the foundations of many measures that are great for getting offenders back into employment and society. I am picking up on those things now. My hon. Friend worked hard with my good friend Baroness Scotland to create alliances, particularly commercial ones, to get people back into work and get employers to recognise the worth of offenders, who can benefit our society.
The hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) welcomed the exemptions, although he chided the Government on a number of issues. I cannot let him get away with that, so I shall respond briefly. The exemptions will not have a tremendous impact on the CRB; we reckon between five and seven weeks for new applicants over three years. However, he made a point about the CRB, and we all want to see it operate effectively.
I completely disagree with the hon. and learned Gentleman about home improvement packs. As the former Minister with responsibility for consumer affairs, I think that the packs are an ideal way to protect the consumer. We will have to agree to disagree on that issue.
The hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone) raised the issue of education and 2002 Act. Clearly, public protection is key to what the Government do.
The hon. and learned Gentleman asked about the review of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. Hon. Members will be aware that a review was taking place and that the Bichard recommendations added to it. We are seeking to establish what needs to be done and what legislation needs to come forward.
The hon. Lady asked also about contractors and subcontractors; checks will be carried out by the Department for Constitutional Affairs to put on a proper footing the background checking of those who have access to Government buildings and so on.
The exemption order is simple and straightforward. I am pleased that the Committee has welcomed it and hope that it will support it.
Question put and agreed to.
Committee rose at eighteen minutes to Three o’clock.

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