New clause 65—Registered sex offenders: change of name or identity—
“(1) The Secretary of State must commission a review of how registered sex offenders are able to change their name or other aspects of their identity without the knowledge of the police with the intention of subverting the purpose of their registration.
(2) The review must consult persons with expertise in this issue, including—
(a) representatives of police officers responsible for sex offender management,
(b) Her Majesty’s Passport Office, and
(c) the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency.
(3) The scope of the review must include consideration of resources necessary for the long-term management of the issue of registered sex offenders changing their names or other aspects of their identity.
(4) The review must make recommendations for the long-term management of the issue of registered sex offenders changing their names or other aspects of their identity.
(5) The Secretary of State must report the findings of this review to Parliament within 12 months of the day on which this Act is passed.”
This new clause would ensure that the Secretary of State must publish a review into how registered sex offenders are changing their names or other aspects of their identity and propose solutions for how the government aims to tackle this issue.
I think the Minister was just about to respond.
I was, Mr McCabe—thank you very much. I understand that the Opposition do not oppose clauses 141 to 143, but I will obviously respond to new clause 65, tabled by the hon. Member for Rotherham and signed by more than 30 other Members. I understand the message of how seriously Members across the House take the issue. We are very alive to the ability of sex offenders to manipulate systems, build trust, groom, and use many evil, awful methods in order to commit their crimes.
I am not naive to the risks that the hon. Lady put forward in her very well argued speech about the motivations of sex offenders in changing their name. As she said, there are very strict rules: sex offenders are required to notify the police within three days of changing their name—indeed, failure to do so is a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment for a maximum of five years. I note her concerns, and those of others, about what can be done, if a sex offender does not so notify, to ensure that there are not consequences further down the line.
In fairness, parliamentarians have been having this debate for some time. I have received a great deal of correspondence on this matter, particularly in conjunction with the campaign run by the Safeguarding Alliance. As a result, I have commissioned officials to look into the matter very carefully. I have written to the Master of the Rolls requesting that a judicial working group set up by the Ministry of Justice should consider how the deed poll process can be exploited for criminal ends.
The work of that group includes considering whether amendments to the Enrolment of Deeds (Change of Name) Regulations 1994 are required. I raise that because the regulations for changing name by deed poll are made by the Master of the Rolls, not a Minister, and I must of course respect and honour that; it is not as straightforward as me signing my name and changes happening. The ball has already started rolling with the Master of the Rolls, and indeed the Ministry of Justice, to try to find ways of addressing the concerns that the hon. Lady and many other Members have voiced in recent months.
I hope the Minister recognises my concerns around enrolment, and the fact that the data then gets published. The enrolled deed poll does not include the question whether someone has a criminal past. I am still concerned that that could be a loophole.
Interestingly, the point that the hon. Lady has highlighted about, for example, victims of domestic abuse having to publish their addresses is one of the factors that we are very much having to bear in mind as we look at this. I have also received a great deal of correspondence from hon. Members concerned about the safety of transgender people, for example, and victims of domestic abuse. We can think of other examples of where people have changed their name and there are security issues therein as well as the fact of the name being changed. It is a very complicated area.
I have also listened to the concerns about the Disclosure and Barring Service system. As colleagues will know, the DBS conducts criminal records checks and maintains lists of people who are barred, by virtue of their previous convictions, from working with either children or vulnerable adults—sometimes both. That is an incredibly important process. My right hon. Friend Sajid Javid has done a great deal of work on the issue as well.
I have asked my officials to work with the Disclosure and Barring Service, employers and others, including the General Register Office, to examine whether, for example, requiring birth certificates would help assure employers such as schools of a person’s history and previous names. The work is very complicated, not least because we have to bear in mind, for example, that 20% to 25% of records checks involve applicants born overseas. Although one would hope that it is easy in this country to obtain a copy of a birth certificate if one has lost it, that may not be the case elsewhere in the world.
The Minister has been going through the same process that I have been going through. Rather than putting a blanket demand for birth certificates on everybody, is there the potential to flag all sex offenders? I am not sure about the Minister’s view, but mine is that when someone carries out a sexual offence, they lose some of their rights. If all sex offenders had a flag on them that automatically triggered the check, either with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency or the Passport Office, that would seem a more manageable way forward administratively.
The Passport Office can already refuse to change the names on a passport under the existing regulations, but this whole area is incredibly complicated; it involves not just regulations but the common law as well. There is a great tradition in common law of people being able to change their names, and we would not want to trespass upon that. What we are trying to do is target sex offenders who are not doing what they should be—namely, notifying the police of any changes to their names.
I have gone through some of the work that we are conducting, albeit quietly; we have not gone to the lengths of describing it as a review. Given the wording of her new clause, I hope that the hon. Member for Rotherham takes comfort from the fact that we are looking at the issue seriously. We are working across the MOJ, the Home Office and other agencies relevant and important to the issue to try to find answers that are proportionate and protect the rights of the very people we are not trying to target.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby gave the example of someone who changes their name on getting married. I am sensitive to the resource implications of having blanket orders. We will continue with this work. I am happy, as always, to involve the hon. Member for Rotherham because I know of her great interest and expertise on these matters, but I hope I can persuade her not to push her new clause.