My Lords, I declare an interest in this matter. In 2011, I promoted a Private Member’s Bill, the Rehabilitation of Offenders (Amendment) Bill. It had taken the Government nearly 40 years, despite many reviews, to finally consider what was right and proper in dealing with offenders and their rehabilitation process. The purpose of the Bill was that, after a specified rehabilitation period, ex-offenders should not have to declare spent convictions when applying for jobs, except in sensitive areas of work, such as criminal justice agencies, financial institutions and work with young people or vulnerable adults. Some parts of this Bill were accepted in the LASPO Act that was supported by my noble friend Lord McNally and supported by the then Secretary of State, the right honourable Kenneth Clarke. Since then, it has helped many offenders to leave the past behind.
We support the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, which backs up observations about this order made by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. The committee is right to draw our attention to this on the grounds that this order gives rise to issues of public policy. We accept that there is a strong argument for the protection to be waived in relation to the current undercover policing inquiry, and I do not oppose or object to that part of it—that can go ahead, as the Minister has said, in June this year. However, we object to the order taking the broader step of making this same provision for any future inquiry. We do not accept that the Secretary of State should be given blanket authority, which would in effect mean that spent convictions and cautions could be admitted into evidence for these inquiries. Each future inquiry will have its own terms of reference and will vary in contents on the matters under investigation. We need to examine in detail the implications of such decisions on the lives of the many people whose convictions are spent.
The inquiry’s terms of reference are set out by the Minister in consultation with the chairman of the inquiry. It is vital to preserve the anonymity of individuals and respect their privacy. Each inquiry will probe new grounds and each ground has to be examined carefully. We must never ignore the impact of disclosures on the lives of those who have been rehabilitated.