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Viscount Goschen: My Lords, the Minister has produced the thinnest figleaf seen in the House for some considerable time. Can the Minister explain how the approach that the Government have taken towards this privatisation of a fundamental service is any different? It seems to me very much like a "first way" or a "second way"--I am not sure which is which--rather than a Third Way.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the point I have been making is that we approach these problems in a way that delivers the best solution overall. There is no ideological commitment to state control; it is simply a way of looking at what will best deliver the solution. That is what the electorate now expect of their government.

Let me conclude by covering two further points. The noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, said that ultimately we have not, as a government, produced a narrative to provide the big idea. With respect, I think that that is wrong. The approach that we are now taking represents, for the first time, an acceptance of the fact that social justice and a strong economy are complementary and go together.

Perhaps I may leave your Lordships with this thought. It was amusing to hear the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Patten; it was amusing to hear the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen; it was not so amusing, but interesting, to hear the speech of the

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noble Earl, Lord Northesk. But none even began to wrestle with the problem identified by the two speeches to which I have repeatedly referred, nor with the problems with which we, as a government, are trying to wrestle. Although it is, in a sense, easy to refer to particular difficulties, it is far more important that we are engaged on work in progress to achieve the reconciliation--which I believe we can--of social justice and enterprise.

Lord Burlison: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do adjourn during pleasure until 8.30 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.24 to 8.30 p.m.]

Criminal Justice and Court Services Bill

Consideration of amendments on Report resumed.

Clause 30 [Sections 28 and 29: supplemental]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 45:

    Page 14, line 17, leave out ("for a term of 12 months or more").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 46 to 49.

We had a short debate on these amendments in Committee. We rather thought that we were going to hear a conclusive argument from the Minister as to why the amendments were not acceptable. I agree with the point made by the Minister in the debate on 4th October about the seriousness of a disqualification order. It does have a serious impact on an offender's life. He said that such an order,

    "should only be imposed where it is seriously justified by the underlying criminal offence".

I do not disagree with that. He went on to say:

    "It is also essential for the disqualification to be imposed automatically on all serious offenders against children".--[Official Report, 4/10/00; col. 1534.]

The reason for my amendment is that the order is not automatically imposed on all serious offenders against children. Daily, people appear before the courts for a first offence; but that belies the fact that the person has been abusing children or others sexually for some time--it merely happens to be the first time that the offender has appeared before the court. We know that such people are frequently given sentences of less than 12 months. There is an enormous lacuna. People who are guilty of the kinds of crimes that would qualify for a disqualification order--whether for peddling pornography on the Internet or for committing serious crimes against others--nevertheless escape, simply because they do not receive a custodial sentence of more than 12 months.

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My amendments seek to make it clear that there are offences which are very serious and for which a disqualification order should be imposed on people who receive a sentence of 12 months or less. The amendments have a serious purpose. I beg to move.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am certainly sympathetic to the position that the noble Baroness has adopted. We both want the same conclusion. The real question is: how do we get there?

This group of amendments seeks to remove the reference to "12 months or more" imprisonment from Clause 30. That means that the court would have to impose a disqualification order on an offender aged 18 or over who was sentenced to prison virtually automatically unless it was satisfied that it was unlikely that the individual would commit any further offence against a child. What we both want is to ensure that an effective scheme to protect children is put in place.

We came to the view that the virtually automatic imposition of disqualification in a senior court, where the 12 months sentence is imposed, would provide the scheme with coherence and stability. The problem with the noble Baroness's approach is that the courts would not simply be able to impose the order automatically.

We consulted extensively, and there were at least two alternative approaches. One approach, which has the advantage of simplicity, would have been to draw up a shorter list of offences to trigger disqualification by trying to limit it to those offences which were always in themselves extremely serious--rape, for instance--and not set a minimum penalty as a filter for disqualification.

That approach has its attractions. However, I agree entirely with the noble Baroness's implied point that such an approach, although simple, is too simplistic. Most people who responded favoured a much wider, comprehensive list of offences but with a year's minimum sentence as the appropriate trigger to ensure proper operation. I think that the majority were right in this instance--although I must say with due deference to the noble Baroness, bearing in mind our recent history and our bruising this evening, that the majority are not always right. They succeed, but they may not be right.

We should like disqualification to be seen as virtually inevitable when the conditions are met. However, I take the noble Baroness's point. We are, after all, dealing with new legislative sanctions. I entirely accept that, when the scheme has bedded in, we ought to think about revisiting it to see what evidence there is of how it has worked in practice. I give the undertaking--and I hope that this is of comfort to the noble Baroness--that we should want to keep the operation of the scheme under close review. For my own part, I should have thought that after 18 months or two years--not too long, but long enough to obtain empirical evidence--we ought to revisit this matter. I hope that the undertaking I have given is

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helpful to the noble Baroness. It is certainly intended to be. On that basis, I invite her not to press her amendments.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for a more fulsome and better argued reply than the one we received in Committee. Nevertheless, I remain concerned. There are people who are wholly unsuited to working with children, who receive sentences of less than 12 months, who will be on the loose, and from whom children will be at risk. It is something we ought to think about.

The noble and learned Lord used the example of an 18 year-old. I should have no compunction whatever in disqualifying an 18 year-old, under all the yardsticks set out in law, if that 18 year-old was an unsuitable person to work with children. If people commit the kind of offences that rule them out from working with children, I believe that disqualification would be in order. I should be depressed by the fact that it was someone aged 18, but I would have no compunction if I thought that a disqualification order would protect children from the behaviour of such a person.

Another point that makes me slightly hesitant when considering whether to revisit this amendment or a similar proposal is that the Government have not made it known whether they would consider, say, a term of nine months rather than 12 months, so that we get a little closer to catching some of the people whom we regard as unsuitable to work with children.

I appreciate what the noble and learned Lord has said about keeping the matter under review and possibly returning to it in a relatively short time--allowing a long enough period to see how this approach is working but in a relatively short time. However, it worries me that we should have to resort to primary legislation to make the change, and that the 12 months' term could not be changed otherwise. I know that in a sense I am arguing against myself in that I take a dim view of using secondary legislation to extend the parameters of sentencing. But it would mean fighting for time to introduce primary legislation. Again, it would be for the courts to decide whether someone was displaying the kind of behaviour that was unacceptable and that would render them a risk in working with children.

However, the Minister's reply was generous and I thank him for it. I should like to reflect further on what he said. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 46 to 49 not moved.]

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 50:

    After Clause 32, insert the following new clause--


(" .--(1) This section applies where the Tribunal has directed under the provisions of section 31 that a disqualification order is to cease to have effect in respect of an individual.
(2) A relevant person may at any time apply to the Tribunal for the reinstatement of the disqualification order.

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(3) An application under subsection (2) may only be granted if the Tribunal is satisfied, having regard to all the circumstances, that it is likely that the individual will commit a further offence against a child.
(4) Where the Tribunal reinstates an order under this section, it must state its reasons for doing so and cause those reasons to be included in the record of the proceedings.
(5) In this section, "relevant person" means--
(a) the Secretary of State;
(b) a superintendent of police;
(c) the director of social services of a local authority.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, we now have before us another vexed issue. It relates to the situation where someone has had a disqualification order revoked but where the reinstatement of such an order is required. The tests are quite serious. If a "relevant person"--namely, the Secretary of State, a superintendent of police or the director of social services--believes that someone, who has been the subject of such a order which has been revoked, has subsequently displayed the kind of behaviour that would render him--if it were a primary offence--being made the subject of a disqualification order, then an application should be made for reinstatement of that order. My amendment seeks to secure provision for an application to be made for consideration of reinstatement of a disqualification order in such circumstances.

I find it quite disturbing that one of the suggestions by the Minister about this was that one should wait for an offence to be committed. That is desperate! The idea that one has to wait for a child to be molested or abused in some way, or for another person to be sexually abused, before anything can be done about reinstatement of an order is quite disturbing. When someone displays the kind of behaviour in respect of which revocation can be considered because he has lived a blameless life and reformed his ways, the argument is that revocation can be considered. However, I have the interests of children in mind. As has been said many times in this Chamber, we all know just how manipulative such people can be. Indeed, paedophiles in particular can be extremely manipulative--they can, for a time, convince all the authorities that life has changed for them and that they no longer pose a risk, but suddenly things can change. It is only right that a chief constable, the Secretary of State and/or the director of social services--all of whom would be very knowledgeable about such matters--should be able to apply to have a disqualification order reinstated.

I do not believe that there is any argument against the terms of my amendment. I have read most carefully what was said on the previous occasion. I have also read very carefully the letters that have been sent to me in the intervening weeks. I simply find it unarguable. If a person made the subject of a disqualification order in the first place has had that order revoked (because he has displayedthe kind of behaviour that would qualify him for revocation) but subsequently displays the kind of behaviour that causes real concern that he may be a risk to children, there ought to be a mechanism, with all the process in place, through

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which an application could be made by responsible people, as set out in the amendment, to have reinstatement considered. I beg to move.

8.45 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, for her explanation of the amendment. As she clearly said, this would allow a disqualification order, which has been removed by a tribunal, to be reinstated, subject to the filter set out in the amendment. I certainly understand the noble Baroness's concerns. I believe that I have already declared my interest here as a former trustee of the NSPCC. I also chaired the commission of inquiry into the prevention of child abuse, which the society established.

We have sought to strike an extremely important balance. It is worth bearing that in mind. As we have drafted matters at present, the tribunal will only be able to lift a disqualification if it is positively satisfied that the affected person,

    "is suitable to work with children".

That is a very high threshold. The noble Baroness said that this should be an authoritative and responsible tribunal. Perhaps I may emphasise the fact that that is a very high hurdle. Indeed, it seems to me that very few tribunals would be content to come to a conclusion on those bases without the most positive, affirmative material. Of course, like many of us, members of a tribunal would be familiar with what the noble Baroness rightly described as the notoriously "manipulative" behaviour of many paedophiles. One reaches the stages where the lifting of the order can only occur on positive satisfaction that the person is suitable to work with children. I trespass slightly here into the next group of amendments, but there are also the time filters to consider for five and 10 years respectively.

We have considered the alternative approach. Obviously no one can listen to the concerns that have been expressed without reconsidering the situation. I understand the noble Baroness's reasons and motives, but I believe that we have got the balance right. It would be a very rare circumstance where the dangers about which the noble Baroness has spoken would arise. After all, a further criminal offence--I recognise her point on this, which is a good one--would trigger a disqualification order. However, there are other safeguards: if the individual in question were a sexoffender he or she could be prevented from undertaking the relevant work by a sex offender order. Of course, the person's criminal record remains and is, therefore, available in appropriate circumstances for scrutiny.

I return to the approach that I mentioned earlier. When one looks at Schedule 4, one can see that it represents a very wide range. I believe that we have got the balance of protection right. However, I stress that no one is capable of coming to perfect conclusions in

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this very difficult area. We will need to keep it under regular review. Once again, I hope that that response is helpful; indeed, it was meant to be so.

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