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My amendments concern a disqualification order for those people who are already convicted in court of an offence against a child but who do not qualify for a disqualification order. One has to think only of the awful crimes committed by Gary Glitter, who traded in child pornography. He received a sentence of less than 12 months and, because of that, he did not fall into the category of qualifying for a disqualification order. I am not saying that this would apply to him, but if the court, having regard to all the circumstances,
My amendment is concerned with whether people are suitable or not to work with children. If a person qualifies for a disqualification order--a matter which was referred to in at least two or three pages of the Minister's speech--there is no problem; they qualify and that is an end to it. But it is different where an offender does not qualify for an order--that is, where someone is sentenced for something very serious but receives less than 12 months.
I am not a magistrate, but my magistrate friends know that some pretty serious offences go through the courts and that the individuals receive sentences of less than 12 months. I can remember going into Lincoln prison. The governor was showing me around and pointed to someone who was due to be released the following week--he was serving a six months sentence--and said, "I know that this man will come back. It is a dead cert that he will come back".
All I am saying is that in circumstances where the court believes that a person is likely to commit a further offence against a child, that person should qualify for a disqualification order that deems him unsuitable to work with children. That is all the amendment seeks to do.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her further clarification and explanation. I appreciate the arguments she is putting forward--I shall not beat about the bush on that--but I had hoped she would pick up the point that I made earlier that this is an issue which we may wish to revisit at a later stage, perhaps when we see the scheme and system properly kick in. At this stage we believe that we have got the measure about right. It is important that we try to get it right at the outset. There will be scope for further review.
It is perhaps worth making the additional point that disqualification is not a substitute for a proper sentence. The unfortunate impact of the noble Baroness's proposal is that it might undermine proper sentencing. We need to see the scheme working and to make a judgment at a later stage. I do not rule out that at some later stage we may have to revisit the issue.
Baroness Blatch: I am not sure that the Minister understands the Bill. I am not talking about a substitute for a proper sentence; I am talking about a person who has been given a proper sentence in the court. I am talking about a person who has committed a crime against a child and who has received a sentence which does not qualify him for a disqualification order. If the court, having regard to all the circumstances--which is the wording of my amendment--believe that that person is likely to commit a further crime against a child, he should be deemed unfit to work with children and thereby qualify for a disqualification order.
I can only conclude from what the Minister said that the Government feel that somebody who is convicted of a crime against a child but who, as the Bill is set out, does not qualify for a disqualification order, nevertheless can be deemed fit to work with children. I beg leave to seek the opinion of the House.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 90 to 93. The amendment relates to another very serious matter and follows on the previous amendment. It is important as it involves the protection of children.
As a magistrate, I was always advised that a sentence of imprisonment of any length cannot be imposed unless the Bench believes that there is no other appropriate way of dealing with it. It follows that only serious offences result in imprisonment of any duration.
Twelve months is a lengthy sentence in anyone's view, and to restrict disqualification to that period is not acceptable. It would not, and indeed did not, catch cases such as the former drummer of the Bay City
We appreciate that disqualification is a consequence of a serious offence--a conviction--as the Minister of State said in another place. However, we on these Benches believe that the protection of children is paramount. I beg to move.
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