My Lords, I am a member of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, which considered this order, under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham, who I am happy to see in his place. I understand clearly the reasons why the undercover policing inquiry—which, as it stretched back into history, had to look a long way back—needed to be able to consider early offences. However, as the committee inquired, and we were concerned about how this might be applied and how it might affect individuals, we began to see the extent to which this narrow point might affect individuals in the future in an unattractive way. Therefore, although it is dangerous to take on an ex-Lord Chancellor, I say to my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay that I do not reach his conclusion, which is that one change should justify a change across the piece.
A lot of the points that I wanted to make have already been made, so I shall be brief. However, first, these are public inquiries, so a person’s conviction, no matter how trivial or long ago, may well be revealed. We drew the attention of the MoJ to this, and its response to us, quoted in the third bullet point of our report, was quoted pretty extensively by my noble friend in her opening remarks. It is, perforce, fairly general, as it is bound to be, and somebody looking to it for protection might wonder how it will be interpreted in the event, given the wide powers the chairman has to interpret where the public interest and private interest overlap. The MoJ went on, in the fourth bullet point of our report, to say that of course a person had some redress in the sense that they could always apply for a judicial review of the decision. That appeared to be largely fanciful. The idea that an individual, swept up into an inquiry like this, would have the time, resource, energy and confidence to seek a judicial review is not realistic, particularly since it would have to happen quickly. Once the name is out, the point of the judicial review is completely lost.
This is not the only place in the regulations which shows a lack of realism. Paragraph 7.5 of the Explanatory Memorandum says:
“The disclosure and consideration of the spent convictions and cautions will not affect any ex-offender’s protection against disclosure when applying for work”.
However, once a person’s identity is revealed, inevitably their positioning in a job interview is worse, or at least affected. In real life, if a recruitment committee is looking at two people of equal skills, and one has a bit of a black mark—it may be a small one which happened a long time ago, but nevertheless it is a black mark—there will be an inevitable tendency for the recruitment committee to decide not to take a risk and choose the other candidate, to the detriment of the person who has been swept up by these regulations we are talking about today.
The Minister justified this by saying that there was a lack of parliamentary time and that there would be bureaucracy and inflexibility if we required individual SIs to allow for exceptions to the Inquiries Act. However, as has been pointed out, so far there have been 23 in 12 years, so one application is not a huge use of parliamentary time to allow for something which offers better protection to individual citizens, who may have done something quite stupid or silly when they were young—which of your Lordships could look in the mirror tomorrow morning and say, “I’ve never done anything silly”? In many cases, we just have not been caught doing it. We therefore need to think more clearly about this. The case for widening the remit, especially without offering better protection and anonymity to individuals whose offences may have been trivial and long ago, has not been effectively made.