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5.48 p.m.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, first, I wish to congratulate my noble friend Lord Taylor of Warwick on an excellent maiden speech. It was superbly delivered. All of us who have been through that ordeal know that it is not the easiest thing to do in this House. The speech was excellent and was delivered with good humour and wit and revealed the experience of the noble Lord as a professional in legal matters. We look forward to hearing more from him on other issues. I know that he has much wider interests than just legal issues and we look forward to hearing more from him in our debates.

We have had a full and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, said, interesting debate on a Bill which deals with matters of national importance. In opening the debate I sought to provide your Lordships with a summary of the Bill's main provisions. There have been many helpful contributions made in response. No doubt many further matters will be raised as the Bill proceeds to detailed scrutiny by this House. I believe it is fair to say that the Bill has been generally welcomed. I shall address as many of the individual points as I can that have been made during the course of the debate. I promise to furnish to the House written replies on those that I miss. I shall make them available to all Members of the House.

In opening, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, was concerned about the Home Secretary appointing three independent members, including the chairman of the service authorities. He referred to the Police Federation's anxiety about police regulations and procedures for complaints and discipline. We fully accept the need to preserve our local basis of policing. The new service authorities are modelled on local police authorities so far as possible. Police authorities and independent members will be in a majority on both service authorities. But these are important national services and we believe that it is reasonable for the Home Secretary to appoint the three independent members including the chairman. Even so, we recognise that there is room for more than one point of view on these matters. I shall consider the views expressed today as we move towards the Committee stage of the Bill.

We understand the concerns of the Police Federation, although the Bill provides a number of safeguards including a role for the Police Negotiating Board for the United Kingdom. I can assure the House that there will be full consultation with the Police Federation and others before the Bill is implemented.

The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, asked about the precedent for the Home Secretary's powers to direct the removal of the director-general, and why that was necessary. He also referred to the distinction between a body corporate and an executive agency. The Home Secretary can require a police authority to require its chief constable to retire in the interests of the efficiency and effectiveness of the service. That is a long-standing power, and we are making the same provision for service authorities. I believe that the Home Secretary has had that power since about the mid-1960s. It is a power of last resort to be exercised in the interests of policing efficiency and effectiveness. The body

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corporate status means that service authorities are legal entities. They will be able to employ staff, purchase property and enter into contracts. Police authorities, on which the service authorities are closely modelled, are bodies corporate. The service authorities, as are the police authorities, will be free-standing bodies outside the Home Office. In the normal course of events, Members of Parliament and noble Lords would write to the service authorities about management issues and to the directors-general about operational matters. That mirrors the arrangements for police authorities as they now are. Members of Parliament will be able to ask questions of Ministers in the same way as they can ask questions about police authorities at present.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, and other noble Lords, referred to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. The noble Lord asked whether criminal conviction certificates are in conflict with the Act. We would say that they are not. The criminal conviction certificate will contain information only about offences which are unspent under the Act. We hope that that will bring to an end the practice of enforced subject access in which employers require applicants to make a request under the Data Protection Act 1984 for access to information on police computers. That elicits details of spent as well as unspent convictions which is not in keeping with the spirit of the Data Protection Act and may mean that spent convictions are considered, contrary to the provision of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, referred to the criminal conviction certificates and asked whether they should be withdrawn in order to have a satisfactory system for a full and enhanced check. We intend to consider phasing in the work of the agency with full and enhanced checks first, followed by criminal conviction certificates. In passing, the noble Lord spoke of possible phasing. The commencement provisions will take account of that.

The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, asked whether people with lost certificates would be penalised. A criminal conviction certificate will not normally be reissued within a certain period after one has been issued. That is designed to protect individuals from being required to obtain them too frequently. That point was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton. There will not be a penalty for losing certificates.

The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, also asked where there will be scope for fraud and forgery of certificates. Again the point was reflected by the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, and others. Clause 109 creates new offences relating to fraudulently obtaining or forging certificates. Criminal conviction certificates and enhanced criminal record certificates will go to the employer as well as the individual. That will reduce the possibility of fraud. For criminal conviction certificates we anticipate taking precautions to prevent forgery by using special paper or other security measures as are used, for example, for passports.

With tongue in cheek, the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, asked whether the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, should recommend checks on prospective parliamentary candidates. I remember that at the time the noble and

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learned Lord was sitting, listening intently to what he said. I am somewhat attracted to the suggestion. However, it will be open to selection committees to require prospective parliamentary candidates to produce a criminal conviction certificate; and I suspect that that will help to keep short lists rather shorter. I believe that it has a relevance for all political parties.

The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and other noble Lords, asked whether the need to produce a criminal conviction certificate will disadvantage ex-offenders. Ex-offenders will retain the protection afforded by the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. That means that after a rehabilitation period, convictions become spent provided that the person has not offended again, and provided that he did not receive a sentence of not more than 30 months. Spent convictions do not have to be disclosed in most circumstances and criminal conviction certificates will not show spent convictions. This point was made by the noble Lord. I am responsible for the Probation Service and for many of those people who are making their way back into the main stream. It is important that after a period of time there is a clean slate, and, as long as that remains so, that the individual gets back into work uninhibited by the publication of spent convictions. A criminal conviction certificate will serve only to confirm that job applicants are being honest about their applications.

The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, asked what scope for redress there was for a person who is not given a job because of incorrect information. It is an important point. Clause 104 makes provisions for a new certificate to be issued if information on it is incorrect. Unlike the existing system, the proposals will ensure that save in the most exceptional circumstances--I set those out in my speech--the individual will know what is on the certificate and can challenge it.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, referred to the private security industry. He asked whether there should be a requirement to check. We shall shortly issue a consultation paper. One of the issues that we shall address is whether parts of the industry should be made exceptions to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. We believe that the introduction of criminal conviction certificates will be welcomed by the private security industry as a way of checking on employees. Companies using private security companies could also seek them from owners or even directors. That point was again made by the noble Lord.

The noble Lords, Lord McIntosh, Lord Rodgers, Lord Rix, and others had worries about the voluntary sector and the unemployed being charged. Voluntary organisations and private sector organisations have sought access to criminal record checks for many years on the same basis as exists in the statutory sector. Our proposals open up checks to meet this need. I must stress that the only way in which it is possible to expand and widen the availability of criminal record checks is by introducing charges. The increased work will cost a considerable amount of money. If it were left on the existing basis with the police, it would mean--I am sure that none of us in this House would wish it--that resources had to be removed from core policing activities. I believe that the charges, which we estimate

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at about £5 to £6 for a criminal conviction certificate or criminal record certificate, and about £8 to £10 for an enhanced criminal record certificate, will not act as a deterrent either on volunteering or on the ability of an unemployed person to obtain work. The alternative to the individual paying would be to require organisations to pay and, as has already been pointed out, that could amount to a considerable sum. The only other alternative would be for the taxpayer to foot the Bill. That does not seem to us to be the best way of widening access to ensure an efficient service.

The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, referred to the financial burden on voluntary organisations. I understand that there are estimated to be between 8.5 million and 24 million volunteers in this country. It is simply not possible to provide free checks owing to the cost on the public purse. Costs will be minimum and will be necessary only to recoup the cost of the service. Many individuals will pay for their own checks. There is no requirement on the voluntary sector to meet this cost. In addition, much of the voluntary sector will have recruitment processes which will obviate the need for checks in many cases.

The noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees, was concerned about accountability and some detailed aspects of NCIS and the national crime squad. We fully share the noble Lord's desire to preserve our system of local policing and tripartite accountability. That is precisely what the Bill seeks to provide. Many of its provisions mirror the arrangements for local police authorities and forces. For example, the director-general of each service will be independent in the same way as chief constables but generally accountable to the service authority. The director-general will be chosen by a panel of the service authority from a list of candidates prepared by the panel and approved by the Secretary of State. That mirrors the procedures for local police forces to which the noble Lord referred. The civil staff will be employees of the service authority, not Home Office staff. NCIS and the national crime squad may need to provide mutual aid to each other and to police forces. Again, the provisions reflect the arrangements for local forces. We have not yet decided on the arrangements for complaints and discipline. There may be a role for the Police Complaints Authority, but it will be one that is entirely consistent with existing procedures.

The noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees, asked me why there was no mention in the Bill of the Criminal Records Agency. Legislation is not required for government departments to set up an agency.

The noble Lord also asked about arrangements for Scotland and Northern Ireland. I mentioned them fairly frequently in the course of my main presentation. Except for the national crime squad, in relation to which there are already satisfactory arrangements in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the key parts of the Bill apply throughout the United Kingdom. In line with established constitutional practice, the Bill refers to the Secretary of State. In many cases, as I was reminded many times by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, "the Secretary of State" can mean any Secretary of State in any department in Whitehall. The Home Secretary will normally take the

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lead, but as I mentioned in my opening remarks on the specific topic of the objectives of NCIS for example, the Home Secretary will act in consultation with the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Northern Ireland to reflect their roles as heads of the home departments of their jurisdictions.

To give another example, it will be the Secretary of State for Scotland who will exercise the powers in Part V of the Bill in Scotland because there are separately administered criminal record organisations in Scotland. I give an assurance now that any questions asked about Scottish and Northern Irish aspects of these matters will be answered by the relevant territorial Minister in this House.

The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, asked what is the status of PITO; why is it different from the status of NCIS and the national crime squad; and why are there so many controls by the Home Secretary, for example in relation to appointments. PITO will be an independent statutory body separate from the Home Office. It is not a Next Steps agency. The arrangements for PITO are similar to those for many other non-departmental organisations. Other Home Office examples include the Police Complaints Authority and the Gaming Board for Great Britain. As befits their status, it is the norm for members of those bodies to be appointed by the Secretary of State, although in the case of PITO a number of members will be nominated by the chief officer and police authority associations. NDPBs are accountable to Parliament through the responsible Secretary of State; but it would be for PITO and not the Home Secretary to answer for its decisions, as befits its independent status.

I was asked why PITO is being established as an NDPB. The model for PITO was agreed with both ACPO and the police authority associations. The service authority structure was designed to meet the particular circumstances of NCIS and the national crime squad. As with police forces, it is important to vest operational independence in the directors-general. PITO, in contrast, is a provider of support services to forces. It has no direct operational functions. The NDPB model allows the organisation to benefit from a hands-on executive board on which all the tripartite partners are represented.

My noble friend Baroness O'Cathain referred to the need for effective information technology systems. PITO's remit will extend to NCIS and the national crime squad, as it does to police forces. Part of the role of PITO is to ensure the delivery of national information technology systems and co-ordinate developments and the delivery of local systems to ensure comparability and compatibility, and to derive benefits from economies of scale. If NCIS needs a particular information technology system it may look to PITO to develop and procure that on its behalf. I think my noble friend will agree that compatibility will be very important within police forces.

My noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth, referring to criminal record checks, was concerned about their being taken away from the police. Police forces cannot meet the increasing demand for checks within existing resources. We did not think it right to ask forces to

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divert resources from core policing activities and looked for an alternative way of dealing with the increased demand for checks. Both ACPO and the Police Superintendents' Association supported our proposals. Criminal record checks are not being privatised. I give my noble friend that assurance. The Criminal Records Agency will be staffed by public servants. I assure my noble friend that the same recruitment procedures will be followed as for other civil servants.

My noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth was also concerned about the RUC being charged directly. I fully accept that the RUC is part of the policing system in this country. We propose that a direct charge should be made in respect of the RUC and Scottish forces to reflect the funding arrangements in both parts of the country, just as English and Welsh arrangements in Clause 17 affect circumstances there.

My noble friend Lord Blaker referred to intrusive surveillance activities as between the intelligence services and the police services. The Security Service will contrive to seek ministerial authorisation for small numbers of operations in serious crime carried out to support law enforcement agencies. It is our view that it would quickly become apparent to the Security Service commissioner and surveillance commissioner if authorisations were being improperly given under the wrong authorisation process. This matter will have to be watched carefully as annual reports are made to Parliament.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Browne-Wilkinson, made some very important points. I will consider his remarks very carefully. However, perhaps I may make some preliminary comments. First, current administrative arrangements are not satisfactory. That is why trying to put operations on a proper statutory footing, mirroring what happens at the moment, is our intention.

In answer to a question by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, we considered the option of judicial warranting; that is, prior authorisation, but ruled it out. We do not believe that it is right to involve judges at the early intelligence gathering stage as regards the prevention of crime as well as the investigation of crimes that have taken place. There is the danger of the judiciary becoming too closely involved in the investigative process and of its impartiality being called into question. There is a distinct difference between sensitive surveillance and the requirement for search warrants. Warrants come at a much later stage, when police can show to the judge evidence to suggest that crime has been committed. A warrant is needed to show to owners and occupiers of premises before the search for and seizure of evidence to support prosecution. Intrusive surveillance is used at an intelligence gathering stage and may never produce evidence sufficient for prosecution. It may also be important to conceal that it has ever taken place. Therefore we do not believe it is a role for judges to be involved. We realise that there are per se intrusive powers but we believe that there are sufficient safeguards and independent scrutiny by the commissioner to ensure that these powers are used responsibly and indeed sparingly. There is no evidence to suggest that chief officers abuse the system. We are

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confident that they will not be so irresponsible as to abuse the system in future and that provision exists to prevent them from doing so. There are a number of safeguards set out in the Bill. No doubt we shall discuss those in more detail as we move into the later stages of the Bill.

I was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, what other options were considered for intrusive surveillance. I have already mentioned the judicial one. Ministerial warranting was also considered. Again we believe it is unusual for Ministers to be so closely involved in these operational decisions.

The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, asked why cautions were included. He was concerned about untested information debarring individuals from jobs. Criminal conviction certificates will not include cautions. These will be available for posts exempt from the provisions of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. We recognise that they are not convictions; nevertheless, they are admissions of guilt. A caution is a response to an admission of guilt and may therefore be relevant. Information untested by the courts will only be included in enhanced certificates and individuals will for the first time see this information and be able to challenge its accuracy. There will exceptionally be reasons why they will not in fact see the enhanced certificate.

The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, also referred to discrimination against ex-offenders and asked why the code of practice was not applied to criminal certificates. Guidance will be provided to employers registering with the agency on employing ex-offenders, including the importance of considering the relevance of offenders' offences to the job in question. The demand for criminal conviction certificates is uncertain but could be high. There will be no register of employees seeking access to these certificates and compliance with the code could therefore not be monitored effectively. However, we shall consider issuing guidance for employers on the use and issuing of certificates.

The noble Lord, Lord Rix, referred to vulnerable people. I recognise, and have some sympathy with, the arguments put forward on extending enhanced checks to those caring for other vulnerable groups than children, such as frail elderly people and adults with learning difficulties. I believe we are right to make criminal record information available for the first time on those working with these groups, but the case has not been established for the need to extend enhanced checks to them. Apart from anything else, the demand for checks on those working in this area is untested but could be very large. It is important to remember that no criminal record check is the complete answer to safeguarding vulnerable people, whether adults or children.

I was pleased to hear the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, on this point because these checks will not be the complete answer to protecting children and/or vulnerable people. In employment practices, checking gaps in career histories and taking up references will be equally important. Careful supervision of new recruits is also needed. In addition, the demand for checks on those working with vulnerable people is uncertain but could be very high and there is

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a danger that the agency and the police might be swamped if enhanced checks were available. However, once the new arrangements have settled down, we should of course be prepared to look at the matter again if there were evidence to suggest that the checking arrangements, when combined with proper recruitment procedures, were inadequate.

Big-time criminals go to great lengths to employ the most sophisticated techniques. The most advanced technologies are used in pursuit of their evil activities. We must respond by outwitting them, catching them and offering greater protection to innocent victims. Although this Bill has a national focus, it nevertheless builds on existing local policing arrangements. In the tripartite traditions of British policing, it will put the use of essential surveillance techniques on a statutory footing and ensure that the police have the best information technology facilities. The proposals to give employers better access to the criminal records of potential employees will help to protect the public. We shall consider carefully all the points that have been made in the course of this debate.

Above all, the Bill will provide real and practical help to the police and other law enforcement agencies in the fight against serious and organised crime. I look forward to further detailed examination of the Bill at Committee stage, Report and Third Reading. I commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.


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