Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Police Act 1997 (Enhanced Criminal Record Certificates) (Protection of Vulnerable Adults) Regulations 2002

7.52 p.m.

Lord Rooker rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 7th February be approved [19th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it might be helpful if I indicate briefly at the outset that the provisions of these regulations are compatible with the rights protected by the European Convention on Human Rights.

The regulations are a crucial element in the package of measures that we have been putting in place under Part V of the Police Act 1997 and which will be operated by the new Criminal Records Bureau. The bureau will allow wider access than hitherto to information about convictions, which may have a material bearing on a person's suitability for employment in particular jobs. Special emphasis has been placed on the protection of children and also of vulnerable adults.

The 1997 Act left a number of detailed matters to be prescribed later under secondary legislation. The issue before noble Lords this evening is the definition of those positions involving work with vulnerable adults which should be eligible for the highest level of certificate—or disclosure, as they are to be known—that the Criminal Records Bureau will issue.

The provisions in the regulations reflect widespread consultation. They set a high test. That is appropriate because enhanced disclosures should be treated not as the norm but as a high level of check to be reserved for those who are at greatest risk. It also reflects the clear view of those representing the disabled that people should not be categorised as vulnerable solely because they are disabled. The regulations therefore strike a balance, which will ensure that those who are at particular risk are afforded the higher level of protection that an enhanced disclosure will provide. Those people are receiving specified services and, because of their disability or condition, are heavily dependent on others, are seriously impaired in their ability to communicate, or would have difficulty protecting themselves. They obviously require and deserve this added protection. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 7th February be approved [19th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Rooker.)

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I have looked at the website of the Criminal Records Bureau. The terms of the regulations appear to be slightly broader than the definition of "vulnerable adult" that is set out on that website. I do not know for sure whether that means that the Government have expanded the initial definition or simply that the website did not fully lay out the definition. The main difference is the addition

27 Feb 2002 : Column 1521

of "social care services" as a service covered, which is in the regulations but not on the CRB website. The other main difference is that the website refers to,

    "serious reduction in physical or mental capacity",

in the "conditions" section, whereas the regulations simply require a reduction in capacity.

We are not here to oppose the regulations, because the definition in terms of the services covered, condition of the individual and disability appear to be reasonable. However, this is an appropriate opportunity to press the Minister on the consultation that he said had taken place. What consultations did the Government undertake in drafting the definition and what changes have there been to the original definition? How many jobs will be affected, and how many enhanced certificates do the Government expect to be issued? What plans are there to update the law on sex offences in relation to vulnerable adults following the review, Setting the Boundaries?

This debate also gives us an opportunity to ask the Minister for an update on the establishment of the CRB. What are the reasons for the delay? Has Capita been responsible in any way and what assurances are there that it will meet the new deadline? We seek an assurance from the Minister on the accuracy of the information given in the certificates.

The Earl of Northesk: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his customary courtesy in explaining the regulations. Self-evidently it is right that special emphasis should be placed on the protection of children and vulnerable adults in the context of assessing an individual's suitability for employment in certain jobs. The enhanced criminal record certificates embodied in the regulations offer such protection.

That said, I have an oblique query, with which I hope the Minister can help me. Notwithstanding compliance with the ECHR, to which the Minister attested, how does the proposed disclosure regime meld with the Data Protection Act, particularly in respect of disclosure of data held to the individual concerned and not just to the prospective employer? I look forward to the Minister's satisfying my curiosity on that point. In the mean time, we on these Benches are satisfied that the regulations are sensible and are content to give them a fair wind.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for their comments.

In response to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, about the number of jobs, I shall have to take advice and write to him. With regard to the website, I freely admit that I do not have a copy of it in my briefing notes. However, I have the form of the definition to hand. It is important to put on the record the kind of people we are talking about. The provisions relate to people who are receiving various services, including accommodation and care in a care home, or in a hospital, or in an establishment catering for people

27 Feb 2002 : Column 1522

with learning difficulties, or support to live in their own home; who have any of a range of conditions, such as a learning or physical disability; and who, as a result, are heavily dependent on others, or suffer problems in communication, or have limited ability to protect themselves. We are therefore looking for enhanced disclosures for that vulnerable group of people.

In the brief time that is available I am happy to put on the record the organisations that were consulted on the drafting of the definition. They are: the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux, Mencap, the Salvation Army, WRVS, John Grooms, Leonard Cheshire, MacIntyre Care, the Queen Elizabeth's Foundation for Disabled People, the Royal National Institute for Deaf People, the Royal National Institute for the Blind, Scope, Sense, the Sue Ryder Foundation, the Disabilities Trust, the Multiple Sclerosis Society, the Papworth Trust, the Shaftesbury Society, the Winged Fellowship Trust and the Voluntary Organisations Disability Group. That suggests the large range of groups that were involved. I cannot give details of what might have changed in terms of the presentations that were put to them.

I fully accept that originally another order was laid in which the word "substantial" was removed. The wrong draft was laid; it was not a mistake. We consulted the Department of Health about the use of the word "substantial"—that is, in paragraphs 2.3.a and 9.c. In those two paragraphs we believed that the test was set too high. It was considered to be too stringent, and that is why the word was removed. It was not a change. It was simply the case that the wrong draft was laid.

With regard to the Data Protection Act, measures relating to the Criminal Records Bureau are based on the fact that the individual, not the employer, applies for a certificate. It is the individual who applies for a job, and it is his information and not the employer's which is in question. Therefore, I can assure noble Lords that we are not setting up an operation which is incompatible with the data protection provisions.

I turn to the grossly unfair question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, about setting up a debate on the Criminal Records Bureau. It is, of course, currently being set up. It will begin to issue standard and enhanced disclosures in March in cases in which police checks are currently available and from the beginning of April 2002 in all other cases. It is expected that basic disclosures will become available later in the summer of 2002. I can give further and better particulars, but a full launch of the Criminal Records Bureau will take place in April this year. It is a new executive agency of the Home Office set up under the legislation to which I referred earlier.

In respect of questions which I have not answered, I shall write to both the noble Lord and the noble Earl and shall place a copy of the letter in the Library.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

27 Feb 2002 : Column 1523

Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) (Amendment) Order 2002

8.2 p.m.

Lord Rooker rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 4th February be approved [18th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am pleased to have the opportunity to debate this order. As I recall, the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 was the first piece of legislation to become an Act before the second election of that year. It was passed within weeks of the general election at which I was first elected to the other place in February 1974. Over the years the Act has performed a valuable function in getting people back into society following difficulties that they have encountered.

I should place on record—I believe that it is important to do so—that we are satisfied that the measures contained in this statutory instrument are compatible with the rights protected by the European Convention on Human Rights.

I do not know how much detail noble Lords want, and I should like to be brief. But I believe that it is important to put on record that the 1974 Act had an underlying philosophy. It concerned the importance of reforming those who commit offences, helping them to pick up their lives and make a fresh start in the hope that they would not return to crime. It accepted that, by definition, they would have paid their penalty and would be able to make a more valuable contribution to society.

That is not to undermine the principle of punishment—far from it. But we must have in place a means for rehabilitation if we are not to have an underclass of people who can never work again. That makes no sense whatever. On the other hand, we must balance that against the risk to society from ex-offenders—in particular, the risk to the most vulnerable members of society.

Ever since the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act has been in place, there has been a list of positions in relation to which an offender cannot escape his past, even if his conviction under the Act is spent. In certain circumstances, he is still required to make a disclosure about his previous criminal activities and convictions. He cannot use the excuse that, because those convictions are spent, he does not need to answer certain questions. Of course, the legislation is 25 years old, and the Home Secretary announced last year that there is to be a fundamental review of the Act. That review will be reported later this year.

Perhaps I may run briefly through the changes in the order. There are some important exceptions: some are wholly new; others amend and update existing exceptions. I believe that I should place those on the record for those who follow our affairs. With regard to applicants for taxi and private hire vehicles drivers' licences, the order will put criminal records checks on a statutory footing and allow the Criminal Records Bureau to provide the information. Another exception concerns RSPCA inspectors and other staff who are

27 Feb 2002 : Column 1524

authorised as part of their duties to carry out the killing of animals with firearms or lethal drugs. The intention is to ensure that such staff are eligible for a firearms licence on completion of training and that those with access to lethal drugs and other humanitarian killing devices are fit and proper persons.

There is a new exception for air traffic control personnel because of the privatisation of the service. This point was previously covered by the Civil Aviation Authority exception. The public also have the right to assume that a registered chartered psychologist is a fit and proper person to practise. The exception will allow the British Psychological Society better to ensure that that is the case.

The Court of Protection appoints receivers. I declare a previous interest, having been a receiver for a late friend. When I was a Member in another place I found it illuminating to see what checks were in place for receivers. Nevertheless, we are now taking the view that it is important to do whatever is possible to guard against unsuitable individuals being appointed as receivers and to have them added to the list.

The inclusion of registered foreign lawyers and Fellows of the Institute of Legal Executives brings them into line with others in the legal professions. Normally I refer to the "legal industry", but in this respect I shall settle for the "legal professions". There is a new exception to bring actuaries into line with colleagues in the legal and accountancy professions. The Crown Prosecution Service is included purely as a technical tidying-up of the exception for the Director of Public Prosecutions and any employment in his office.

The inclusion of the Serious Fraud Office and Her Majesty's Customs and Excise will bring them both into line with the Crown Prosecution Service. The inclusion of the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the National Crime Squad is necessary to ensure that all employees—not only police officers—are subject to full criminal record checks.

There is a new exception to cover people employed by Internet service providers and others who monitor conversations in electronic chat rooms better to ensure the protection of children. The order updates the existing social services exception to allow full criminal record checks on those who provide social and care services to vulnerable adults. There is movement of the exception covering National Lottery licensing from the National Lottery etc. Act 1993 to its rightful place in the exceptions order.

The policy objective is to ensure that the right balance is struck between the beneficial effects of rehabilitation with its neutralising effect on employers' potential prejudices on the one hand, and, on the other, the genuine need for access to information on the grounds of public protection. Of course, focus has been sharpened by the Human Rights Act. The disclosure of an individual's spent convictions potentially could infringe Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. We are satisfied that the exceptions as drafted achieve the right balance and

27 Feb 2002 : Column 1525

are therefore compatible with the legislation. Therefore, I hope that the order will receive the approval of the House.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 4th February be approved [18th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Rooker.)

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page