New Clause 8 - Registration for criminal records purposes

Criminal Justice and Police Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:30 pm on 6th March 2001.

Alert me about debates like this

`.—(1) After section 120 of the 1997 Act there shall be inserted the following section—

``Refusal and cancellation of registration

120A.—(1) The Secretary of State may refuse to include a person in the register maintained for the purposes of this Part if it appears to him that the registration of that person is likely to make it possible for information to become available to an individual who, in the Secretary of State's opinion, is not a suitable person to have access to that information.

(2) The Secretary of State may remove a person from the register if it appears to the Secretary of State—

(a) that the registration of that person is likely to make it possible for information to become available to an individual who, in the Secretary of State's opinion, is not a suitable person to have access to that information; or

(b) that the registration of that person has resulted in information becoming known to such an individual.

(3) In determining for the purposes of this section whether an individual is a suitable person to have access to any information, the Secretary of State may have regard, in particular, to—

(a) any information relating to that person which concerns a relevant matter;

(b) whether that person is included in any list mentioned in section 113(3A) or (3C); and

(c) any information provided to the Secretary of State under subsection (4).

(4) It shall be the duty of the chief officer of any police force to comply, as soon as practicable after receiving it, with any request by the Secretary of State to provide the Secretary of State with information which—

(a) is available to the chief officer;

(b) relates to—

(i) an applicant for registration;

(ii) a registered person; or

(iii) an individual who is likely to have access to information in consequence of the countersigning of applications by a particular applicant for registration or by a particular registered person;

(c) concerns a matter which the Secretary of State has notified to the chief officer to be a matter which, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, is relevant to the determination of the suitability of individuals for having access to the information that may be provided in consequence of the countersigning of applications under this Part.

(5) In this section `relevant matter' has the same meaning as in section 113.''

(2) In section 119 of that Act (sources of information)—

(a) in subsections (1) and (4) (supply of information to the Secretary of State for the purposes of applications under Part V), for ``for the purposes of an application under this Part'' there shall be substituted ``for the purpose of enabling him to carry out his functions under this Part in relation to—

(a) any application for a certificate or for registration; or

(b) the determination of whether a person should continue to be a registered person.'';

(b) after subsection (1) there shall be inserted—

``(1A) Any person who keeps a list mentioned in section 113(3A) or (3C) above shall make the contents of that list available to the Secretary of State for the purpose of enabling him to carry out his functions under this Part in relation to—

(a) any application for a certificate or for registration; or

(b) the determination of whether a person should continue to be a registered person.''

(c) in subsection (3) (payment for information provided under subsection (2)), for ``subsection (2)'' there shall be substituted ``section 120A(4) or subsection (2) of this section''.

(3) In section 120(2) of that Act (duty to grant registration), after ``Subject to'' there shall be inserted ``section 120A and''.

(4) In section 120(3) of that Act (regulations about registration), after paragraph (a) there shall be inserted—

``(aa) the nomination, in the case of a body corporate or unincorporate, of the individuals authorised to act for the body in relation to the countersigning of applications under this Part;

(ab) the refusal by the Secretary of State, on such grounds as may be specified in or determined under the regulations, to accept or to continue to accept the nomination of a person as so authorised;''.'.—[Mr. Charles Clarke.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I shall be brief, but I need to explain what the new clause is designed to deal with. New clause 8 is a technical amendment to part V of the Police Act 1997, but it is also important in its own right. It will increase confidence in the arrangements that are being implemented under part V, and will add to the safeguards that that part will bring to the protection of children and vulnerable adults.

Under part V, many more employers, including voluntary organisations, will have access to police information. That will help them in making decisions about the suitability of people applying for jobs. The Criminal Records Bureau is being set up to implement part V.

The CRB will issue three levels of certificates, as hon. Members will be aware. It is important that applications for the certificates will have to be countersigned by a person registered with the CRB for that purpose. The registered person has a key role, and the CRB needs to know about the people seeking registration.

Part V as it stands does not provide what is required. The new provisions will mean that applicants for registration can be checked to the same level as those whose applications for certificates they will endorse. Applicants can be refused if their registration is likely to result in information becoming available to someone who is considered unsuitable; and similarly, someone can be removed from the register. Provision is also made for similar safeguards in relation to persons nominated by a registered body to act as a counter-signatory on behalf of that body. The new safeguards are important, and I hope that the Committee will agree to them.

The purpose of Government amendment No. 189 is to extend the provisions in new clause 8 to Northern Ireland as well as England and Wales. I hope that that is clear, and I am happy to respond to any points that members of the Committee would like to raise.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Obviously, Government amendment No. 189 presents no difficulty. However, I was not entirely sure of the purpose of new clause 8. As I understand it, certificates of conviction can be sought if, for example, an employer wishes to know the background of an individual, and a registered person is somebody who is entitled to request such a certificate or co-sign an application for one. In adding to legislation an ability to refuse or cancel a registration, are the Government concerned about the potential for such information to get into the wrong hands, as occurred in Portsmouth, where information about alleged paedophiles got into the public domain? Is it an attempt to ensure that information about previous convictions cannot get into the public domain by tightening up the provisions for those who seek to be registered?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I apologise to the Committee for not making myself clear when I introduced the new clause. The registered person occupies a crucial position in the new arrangements. The CRB will need to rely heavily on registered persons to assess applications correctly and to safeguard the information that is supplied to them. When preparing for the introduction of the CRB, we became conscious of the risk that criminal and other unscrupulous elements may seek to register with the CRB to take advantage of such a position of trust and become front organisations for paedophile activity.

Registration would provide a respectable front and give access to sensitive police information. A dedicated paedophile ring would obviously derive enormous advantage from information that the police were following the activity of one of its associates. Less obviously, it would also draw comfort from the absence of such information, which would suggest that the police were not aware of its activities. Clearly, the CRB needs to know about those seeking registration, so that it can be sure that they can be relied on. Similarly, the police need to be sure about the people to whom they are supplying information. All of that would enable employers and voluntary organisations using the CRB's services to have greater confidence in the integrity of the arrangements. It has become apparent that part V, as originally drafted and passed by the House when the CRB was set up, does not provide in full what is required to ensure that that will be the case.

The new provisions are designed to ensure that applicants for registration are checked to the same level as those applications for certificates that they will endorse, including the right to refuse and so on. The need for such a policy became clear only when we worked through the precise methodology of the CRB, which, as the hon. Gentleman knows, is going through such a process at present. The alternative to that law being passed would leave a serious danger that we would not investigate people that needed to be investigated and there might be a channel through which seriously dangerous elements could get inside what is designed to be a watertight system.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The Minister has given a satisfactory explanation of the new clause. It seems a sensible measure and we shall support it.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I should like to make a practical point first, after which I have two questions for the Minister. When the Government introduce new clauses in Committee, they are not covered in the original notes on clauses. Will the Minister be kind enough to ensure that a summary of their import is available to us on Report when other new clauses are introduced, especially given that some of them are not as clear as they might be? In general, new clauses are fairly transparent, but the new clause under discussion took me and my colleagues some time to work through. Without wishing to do him a disservice, our senior researcher did not understand immediately every line of it.

If a charity, which might be an employer, applies to be registered, would that itself be a guarantee of registration? Will a previous acceptance of status entitle an employer to be included automatically on the register? Some widespread concern has been expressed about charities that are not charities or organisations that are not what they pretend to be. I assume that the same will apply to registered companies, but will a separate exercise be carried out in that respect, so that there is some assurance that information will not be transferred to what are clearly front organisations or evilly motivated companies or individuals? If the Minister can give me assurances about the charitable sector and the corporate sector, it would be helpful.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

The hon. Gentleman has made a good point and I accept his rebuke that it would be a good idea when the Government table new clauses to set out information about them equivalent to that which is set out in the notes on clauses. I will do what I can to ensure that we operate such a system in future.

As for the hon. Gentleman's questions about charities or limited companies, there are no guarantees. No one is entitled because of the status of the organisation to assume that he would automatically receive such a status. We hope and believe that many of the major charities and organisations would pass all the tests, but it is precisely to establish clarity that we want to give the CRB the powers that are explicit in the Bill. With that, I hope that the Committee is in agreement.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.