PARLIAMENTARY DEBATES

HOUSE OF COMMONS

OFFICIAL REPORT

Second Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.

DRAFT REHABILITATION OF OFFENDERS ACT 1974 (EXCEPTIONS) (AMENDMENT) ORDER 1986

Tuesday 1 July 1986

LONDON

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The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Sir Anthony Meyer (in the Chair)

Barnett, Mr. Guy (Greenwich)

Carlile, Mr. Alex (Montgomery)

Deakins, Mr. Eric (Walthamstow)

Faulds, Mr. Andrew (Warley, East)

Freeson, Mr. Reg (Brent, East)

Kilroy-Silk, Mr. Robert (Knowsley, North)

Mellor, Mr. David (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department)

Neubert, Mr. Michael (Romford)

Nicholls, Mr. Patrick (Teignbridge)

Oppenheim, Mr. Phillip (Amber Valley)

Price, Sir David (Eastleigh)

Rowe, Mr. Andrew (Mid-Kent)

Sims, Mr. Roger (Chislehurst)

Soley, Mr. Clive (Hammersmith)

Spencer, Mr. Derek (Leicester, South)

Tapsell, Sir Peter (East Lindsey)

Winterton, Mrs. Ann (Congleton)

Woodcock, Mr. Mike (Ellesmere Port and Neston)

D. F. Harrison, Committee Clerk.

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3 Second Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. Tuesday 1 July 1986

[SIR ANTHONY MEYER in the Chair]

Draft Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) (Amendment) Order 1986

10.30 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Mellor): I beg to move, That the Committee has considered the draft Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) (Amendment) Order 1986. Following the particularly appalling murder of four-year-old Marie Payne, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary decided that the arrangements for disclosing the criminal background of people seeking work with children should be urgently reviewed. One recommendation of the review team was that a comprehensive system of pre-employment checks on criminal convictions should be introduced for those seeking positions, whether paid or voluntary, which give substantial access to children. It was further recommended that a list should be compiled on those groups of people working with, or having substantial access to, children, which could be used as a basis for instituting background checks. We are well advanced in implementing a system whereby checks can be made of those working in the public sector, for example, in local authorities and the NHS. The review team has now been expanded to include representatives of the voluntary sector and the private education sector. It is now considering what acceptable arrangements can be made to extend disclosure into the voluntary sector and to the teachers and other staff in independent schools. A key point of the review was that the exceptions to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 should he extended to cover beyond doubt all those groups of people considered by the review team to have substantial access to children. The Committee will recall that Parliament recognised, when passing that Act, that it was necessary to give the Secretary of State the power to disapply by order the relevant provisions of the Act in specified cases or classes of case. It was recognised that in some cases it would be essential for information to be available about all previous convictions, whether spent or not, and for the responsible authorities to be able to take such information into account if it would be appropriate for them to do so. The 1975 exceptions order exempts a number of specified professional and occupational groups, including a number of people relevant to our consideration of the particular problems of children, such as the teaching and nursing professions. Although it is clear that the 1975 exceptions order covers an overwhelming majority of those groups of people having substantial access to children, there are some—in par- 4 ticular, child minders, and adults living in the same households as foster parents and child minders—that are not covered. That is why we felt it necessary to amend the 1975 order to close those loopholes. In framing the order, we have been conscious of the difficulty of trying to categorise comprehensively those with access to children. That is why we have formulated the catch-all provision, which covers any person who will have regular contact with children in the normal course of employment or occupation. At the same time, we are seeking to extend the exception to persons living in the same household as those who look after or work with children at home—primarily child minders and foster parents. The effect of that will be that employers can check the previous connections of applicants for jobs involving children or work on the same premises as children. I am thinking of school caretakers in the context of the particularly horrifying case of which hon. Members will have heard last week. The extension of the exception is not rigidly tied to employment. When a local authority has to make the difficult decision as to whether to return a child to a home—many cases come to mind—where a cohabitee or someone else living there would have access to the child, it must make checks to find out whether anyone in the home should not be allowed to live with the child because of their previous convictions.

Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery): Is the Minister satisfied that the new exceptions cover volunteers helping, for example, in homes run by charities? Cases have come before the courts in which volunteers have volunteered for quite the wrong reasons, and have committed serious offences against children

Mr. Mellor: Although it is difficult to find a way, we are trying to extend the scheme into the voluntary sector, the significance of which cannot be underestimated. We do not want every representative of every charity, however small, to be able to ring up and find out about criminal convictions. For example, Evans—the man involved in the Marie Payne case—changed the aims of TOC H to include child minding, such was his drive to become involved with children. If the law is enforced properly, once a framework is set up to enable checks to be made in the voluntary sector, a volunteer will be caught within the provisions. We examined that with care for precisely the reasons raised by the hon. and learned Gentleman. With what I hope is not an over-lengthy explanation, I commend the order to the Committee. It is an important step towards enabling us to do what I suspect that the House wishes us to do—create a much better mechanism to protect children in these difficult circumstances, having regard to the lessons that we have learnt from recent dreadful cases.

10.36 am

Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith): I do not wish to delay the Committee because the Opposition are happy with the order. The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 was a useful Act that enabled people who had committed 5 certain offences to erase the stain from their character by retaining a clean record for a certain length of time after the offence. However, when the Act was passed, it was recognised that there must be some exceptions to its remit. It is appropriate to extend the Act as the Minister described, but the Department must keep an eye on how the provisions are used. Although we are anxious to stop abuses such as those that he has described, it would be unfortunate if the extension were used against people who had committed a minor, irrelevant offence many years previously. For example, someone aged 40 or 50 who applied for a job or a position in the voluntary sector might not be able to take it up because 6 of a minor offence—anything from a public order to a minor dishonesty offence. There must be guidance as to when the provisions are to be used. It is also necessary to extend the Act to cover those under 18, to catch people with a record of child abuse or sexual violence.

On those grounds, we do not object to the order.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved That the Committee have considered the draft Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) (Amendment) Order 1986.

Committee rose at twenty-one minutes to Eleven o'clock.

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THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:

Meyer, Sir Anthony (Chairman)

Carlile, Mr. Alex

Mellor, Mr.

Neubert, Mr.

Nicholls, Mr.

Price, Sir David

Rowe, Mr.

Sims, Mr.

Soley, Mr.

Spencer, Mr.

Tapsell, Sir Peter

Winterton, Mrs. Ann

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