Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Blatch: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Do the three examples he has mentioned pertain if a person's sentence is completely spent?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The answer is "Yes". Thus we see no need for the new clause proposed by the noble Baroness. As I said, by setting in statute such a high criterion for reimposition it could make protection more difficult by these other routes.

I fully understand the noble Baroness's reasons for proposing the new clause. However, we cannot accept it. We believe that we have a robust framework. I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Blatch: Before I do so, I press the noble Lord further. A person may have a completely spent sentence but a social services director, a superintendent of police or the Secretary of State may believe that that person is displaying behaviour that gives cause for concern. Under the terms of my amendment they would apply to the tribunal and the latter would decide whether the person constituted a threat. I believe that the noble Lord is saying that a ban can be imposed on a person whose sentence is completely spent without that person attending a court proceeding. On what basis could a court proceeding take place if the person concerned had not committed an offence?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I confirm that it would be possible to apply a ban.

Baroness Blatch: But what procedure would be invoked and on what basis would that person be further punished? The noble Lord states that my

4 Oct 2000 : Column 1538

amendment constitutes a further punishment. However, he has read out three further punishments that could be imposed on an innocent person in the sense that he or she has a spent sentence. Will the noble Lord explain why my amendment constitutes a punishment and is unacceptable when he has given three examples of punishment for a person who is innocent at that point?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The person may be innocent at that point but, as the noble Baroness said, they may well exhibit peculiar behaviour. Sex offender orders and anti-social behaviour orders are awarded by the civil court on the grounds of new risk. That is how the scheme works.

I believe that we have a perfectly practical and workable method of dealing with this matter. The key point is that the tribunal should only ever lift a disqualification order in exceptional circumstances. Being able to reimpose it might make tribunals more generous in that they might consider they could afford to take risks. However, we do not want them to take risks. They must be satisfied that a person is positively suitable to work with children. That is an important part of the way in which our scheme works.

Baroness Blatch: I need to press the noble Lord further. He says that a sex offender order can be imposed on someone with a spent conviction who is at that point innocent. All I am saying is that they should be deemed unsuitable to work with children. The noble Lord said that one cannot impose a disqualification order on such people--in other words, reimpose a revoked order--but one can impose a sex offender order. Will the noble Lord explain why they can continue to work with children in those circumstances?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: We are trying to create a coherent system. I believe that the noble Baroness does not understand the way in which we see the system working. Perhaps that is because I have not explained it as well as I could, or perhaps the noble Baroness's understanding is incomplete. I believe that we have designed a robust and effective system. I suggest that the way in which the noble Baroness seeks to reintroduce a disqualification order is not workable. We want to see a workable scheme. I believe that the scheme we have offered is workable. I believe that the explanation I have given for ways in which a ban could be reintroduced is coherent. We do not think that it is necessary to do what the noble Baroness seeks. In any event, we feel that a disqualification order should be lifted and set aside only in exceptional circumstances. I hope that the noble Baroness will read what I have said and reflect further.

Baroness Blatch: The noble Lord just mentioned a ban being reintroduced. I am suggesting that a ban should be reintroduced where someone is displaying the behaviour we have mentioned. If the noble Lord is saying that there is a system for reintroducing a ban, I should like to know what it is. I understand that the noble Lord is saying the following. Someone who has

4 Oct 2000 : Column 1539

committed a serious offence against a child is convicted and a disqualification order is imposed. At some point a tribunal has deemed that that person is reformed and fit to work with children. Subsequently, a director of social services, a superintendent of police or the Secretary of State have reason to believe that the person is beginning to pose a threat to the public. They believe that a reinstatement of the order would be appropriate. I believe that the noble Lord is saying that it would not be appropriate and that the person in question could continue to be deemed fit to work with children. That is unacceptable. I shall return to this matter. If the noble Lord is not prepared to reflect further on the matter at the next stage of the Bill I shall seek the opinion of the Chamber.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: Perhaps I may clarify the position. The behaviour that the noble Baroness describes is precisely the behaviour which would lead to reoffending. Then the situation would revert to where it was before.

The noble Baroness needs to reflect carefully on the amendment. I think that we are trying to achieve the same objective: to ensure that people who are unsuitable to work with children do not work with them in the future. That is why we have such a hard-nosed and rigorous disqualification scheme, and I think that in very few cases would anyone manage to achieve a revocation of that disqualification. That is the important point on which to focus.

Baroness Blatch: This is my final word on the matter. The noble Lord has made my case. Yes, of course, that kind of behaviour leads to re-offending. My amendment is about preventing re-offending, not leading to it. I am in the business of preventing children being at risk. The noble Lord says that the ban cannot be reinstated and that the person displaying such behaviour can continue to work with children. That is unacceptable. However, at this stage I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 32 [Conditions for application under section 31]:

Baroness Hanham moved Amendment No. 98:

    Page 15, line 40, leave out ("he is released") and insert ("the sentence passed on him expires").

The noble Baroness said: Under Clause 31 a person who has been disqualified from working with children may apply to a tribunal for a review of the order. Clause 32 states that for those under the age of 18 this could be made five years after release from custody, and for those over 18 10 years after release from custody.

The amendment proposes that the application should not be made five or 10 years from release from custody but from the time the sentence expires. While it is for the tribunal to decide whether an application can be considered, the tribunal will act in the terms of legislation as well as on its own guidelines. But it would

4 Oct 2000 : Column 1540

be difficult, if the legislation allows for applications on the basis of Clause 32, for this to be rejected without other good reasons.

The time that an offender is released from custody can depend on a number of factors. Some will have quite short terms, in particular if the Home Office detention curfew scheme is imposed. That would mean that those could become an option. We feel that it is better to strengthen the Bill now to make sure that the timescales are those of the full term of the sentence before the disqualification application can be made. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: As I have said several times today, the Government bow to no one to explain and make clear their concern to ensure that those who are disqualified should remain so, if there is any risk to children. It is for that reason that once a person has been disqualified the process is heavily weighted so that he can achieve a lifting of the ban only if he can positively satisfy the tribunal that there is no longer a risk for children.

I wish to reassure noble Lords that the review process is very rigorous.

Baroness Hanham: Perhaps the Minister is reading from the wrong brief. I am raising the question of when an application can be made to a tribunal for disqualification, not for review.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I thought that we were discussing Amendment No. 98.

Baroness Hanham: It is the application for the review of a disqualification order.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I apologise for the delay. The reason for the present wording is in order to consider whether or not this leave should be granted. On any demonstration of suitability, the tribunal must consider the individual's record in the community. There is no value in considering the period when an offender might have been imprisoned, especially when one considers that many sex offenders in prison are exemplary prisoners. It is their record in the community that we feel must count. With her experience in these matters, I am sure the noble Baroness will understand that. Equally, there is no reason to limit the period to exclude the time the offender may spend, for example, on supervision. This will be time in the community and should be counted as such. However, the tribunal might be aware that the offender might be on his best behaviour during such a time and might take this into account.

The purpose of the disqualification order is not primarily to punish the individual but, as we all accept, to protect children. For that reason there is no requirement to tie the date on which an offender is able first to approach the tribunal to the date on which their sentence expires. The relevant period is from the date when they were first released into the community. If during that period they have returned to prison for a different or even similar offence, or perhaps had been

4 Oct 2000 : Column 1541

recalled for breach of licence conditions, those circumstances would be extremely telling, perhaps even conclusive in the deliberations of the tribunal.

A further difficulty with the amendment would be that some offenders who receive life sentences could never be considered for review. There could be cases where a review for someone serving a mandatory life sentence was appropriate and it would be wrong not to allow this possibility, remote thought it may be. For those reasons, we do not feel able to accept these amendments.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page