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Baroness Hanham: Can the Minister tell me the likely earliest possible date on which an offender could make an application for revocation?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I shall have to take advice on that point. I shall be happy to share that information with the noble Baroness. I am advised that it would be 10 years after release for an adult.

Baroness Hanham: I think that we are getting the Minister into a muddle. I had understood that. My proposal--the Minister rejected it--is that the revocation, which could not be applied for until five or 10 years respectively, should be after the expiry of the sentence not after the end of the time of the sentence served. I believe that that has been rejected. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment and will consider our position after reading Hansard.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 32 agreed to.

Clause 33 [Persons disqualified from working with children: offences]:

Baroness Hanham moved Amendment No. 99:

The noble Baroness said: The amendment would ensure that the Bill encompasses casual work--the work that people undertake in a voluntary sense which brings them into close contact with children. This work could be paid or unpaid and would cover youth groups, adventure playgrounds, church groups and so on. The amendment would toughen the existing provision, making it clear that there are no doors open to disqualified people.

As has been well recognised in previous discussions on the issue, child sex offenders are devious and cunning. The possibility of having any access to children in the groups and organisations that I have mentioned would present great opportunities to them. Further jobs could be added to the list, such as child minding and other situations in which children need to be looked after.

The clause is deficient because it does not cover those who seek casual labour. The amendment is designed to remedy that. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: Like the noble Baroness, we are determined to ensure that individuals who pose a risk to children are prevented from obtaining

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positions in which they are able to prey upon children. I fully understand the noble Baroness's point that we are dealing with devious and sly criminals. That is why we have sought to ensure that disqualified individuals are banned from a comprehensive range of defined regulated positions. We are seeking to establish a new offence as a powerful disincentive to breaching a disqualification order.

The definitions in Clause 37 cover work of any kind, whether paid or unpaid. Any casual work that falls within the regulated positions defined in Clause 34 will be covered. I hope that the noble Baroness will accept my assurance that there is no need for the amendment.

It has been suggested that we should go further and undermine the concept that such work should be regular. The noble Baroness may want to include truly one-off casual work, such as a builder who would normally work on any number of sites being asked on a one-off basis to mend the roof of a school. We believe that that would go beyond what is justified by the overriding need to protect children.

There are a number of factors to be taken into account in ensuring the protection of children. Not least is the need to ensure that offenders are not completely ostracised from society and treated as utter pariahs. Part of that consideration requires that the disqualification order does not prohibit them from taking on work that would not cause a potential risk to children. We think that the current definition of working with children, using the framework of regulated positions, will achieve the right balance. It will prevent disqualified individuals obtaining work that would give them the access to children that might enable them to abuse a child in any sense. The key consideration is whether the normal duties of the individual provide him with the kind of access to, or authority over, children that the Bill is designed to preclude.

The current definition will catch any casual worker who comes into regular contact with children. For example, it will catch an individual who offers his services to a catering firm one of whose primary functions is the provision of meals in schools. However, it will deliberately not catch the street cleaner who occasionally tidies up a public park, unless the normal duties of the post involve regular work in or around areas set aside for the use of toddlers or small children.

The current definition provides sufficient protection against those who might be a threat to children, but it rightly does not prevent them from taking work of any sort that might occasionally bring them into contact with children, but would not give them the sort of access that would pose a threat to children's safety.

The amendment might make an unreasonably vast sector of the jobs market out of bounds to the disqualified individual. We see no great merit in that,

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although we fully share the concern to provide the maximum possible protection to children. We believe that our definition achieves that.

Lord Dholakia: I thought that the noble Baroness was talking not just about casual work, but about work for which no payment is made. Will that be covered?

4.45 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I thought that I had made it clear that the work would be caught whether it was paid or unpaid.

Baroness Hanham: I was interested to hear the Minister's definitions of those seeking casual labour. He referred to catering work and street cleaners. That is not what I was getting at. Such jobs would be casual labour, but people would probably not come into direct contact with children in those circumstances. We are more concerned about voluntary organisations and groups in which people come into direct contact with children. I gave some examples, including youth groups, adventure playgrounds, Church groups or scouts. There are many areas in which people can take up work for a short period.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I understand that. I thought that I had made that plain. I am more than happy to take further advice. I believe that the Bill covers those positions, but I shall be happy to clarify the matter further at a later stage if the noble Baroness withdraws her amendment.

Baroness Hanham: I should be grateful if the Minister would clarify the situation. In the meantime, we shall revisit our legal advice, which is that such positions are not covered. Perhaps we can come to an amicable conclusion between us. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 100:

    Page 16, line 28, at end insert (", or

(b) fails to remove such an individual from such work.").

The noble Lord said: This is a minor amendment that closes a potential loophole in the offences provided in Part II. Clause 33 provides two new offences. The first occurs when a disqualified individual knowingly applies for, offers to do, accepts or does any work in a regulated position, as defined in Clause 34. The second offence occurs when someone knowingly offers work in a regulated position to or procures such work for a disqualified individual.

It is conceivable that someone already working in a regulated position could be disqualified. It would obviously be an offence for them to work in such a position again, but the Bill would not currently make it an offence for someone knowingly to hold open a post or keep that disqualified person in employment.

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Strictly speaking, to hold open such work or otherwise to ensure that work is available is neither to offer nor to procure work in a regulated position.

We intend to ensure that someone who is identified as a risk to children is prevented from being in a position to cause further harm and is removed from any such position they already hold. Such an individual forfeits the right to hold positions that grant them the access to children that might give an opportunity for abuse of any kind. A disqualification order would justify the dismissal of a person from a regulated position under Section 98(1) of the Employment Rights Act 1996.

The amendment does not contravene the sprit of the Bill. It ensures that our aim of protecting children from those who might abuse them is more thoroughly met. I beg to move.

Earl Russell: I am sorry to delay proceedings, but I should like to ask one question by way of clarification about the interlocking of the amendment with the rules about actively seeking work, as applied by the Department for Education and Employment. I should be distressed to think that anybody was to be disentitled to benefit for not actively seeking work because he refused to apply for a job that he was very properly not allowed to hold. On the other hand, if information is to be shared with the Employment Service, as it would need to be, there could be a question of confidentiality. I should be grateful if the Minister could tell me, now or at a later stage, how the Government intend to tackle that practical issue.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I shall be the first to admit that my brief does not cover that issue. I understand the point that the noble Earl has raised. I believe that it is an interesting point and one which we shall obviously need to think through carefully. I can give an assurance that the individual would not be deprived of benefit for such a reason. However, if the noble Earl is content for me to do so, I shall be happy to provide him with as full an explanation as I can at a later date.

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