28 MAR 2019

Speech in debate on disclosure of youth criminal records

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I will make a few comments about the impact of what we looked at in the report on education, housing and the insurance market. Those issues are adequately set out in the report, so I will just bring out a few points.

My starting point is the need to provide proper rehabilitation and support for people who have obtained a conviction, however they obtained it. If we do not come from that position when we discuss the subject, we are lost. Therefore, as I mentioned in my intervention, there is a great need to ensure that education institutions are aware of an individual's particular needs. It may be that an individual has an admittedly spent conviction that came about because of mental health capacity needs. It is absolutely appropriate for the education establishment to know about that to provide the necessary support to make sure that he or she can be looked after in the best way.

It should not be possible, however, for an institution to act as in the case of the nurse who, at the age of 15, received a conviction for actual bodily harm for tackling a school bully. As a result, her place to study nursing at university was revoked and she had to appeal, which meant that she had to go through the process of explaining what had occurred. The decision was reversed, but after that woman had looked for jobs, she said she had found that her career progression was inhibited because of that spent conviction. That is where the unfairness in the system emerges, and it is why we need some of the flexibility that my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) mentioned.

The second area that I will touch on is housing. I need to tread carefully here, being a member of the Ministry concerned. However, there is a great case for making sure that the allocation of housing and the schemes to organise that allocation do not create avoidable barriers when it comes to providing people with accommodation.

We all know that accommodation is one of the best routes to stability and to providing an individual with a job and a good background. We need to encourage individuals to find accommodation. So I will just finish on housing by asking the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), if he can explain what conversations have been had with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to take this process forward and to make sure that the issue is being addressed.

Lastly I will look at the issue of insurance, which we have already discussed briefly. In that area, we found a number of examples of avoidable barriers. One of them, which I mentioned in my intervention earlier, related to a complaint involving motor insurance, where the insurer had cancelled an existing customer's policy on discovering that she had a spent conviction. The woman involved complained about that because it was she who had revealed that she had a spent conviction. The ombudsman found that it was unfair and unreasonable for her to be punished for her honesty in making sure that she disclosed that information. I think that the insurer in that case was fined.

Nevertheless, that example is a very good one of how the insurance industry has not been properly managed to tackle this issue. I know that in their report the Government said that they were talking to the Association of British Insurers, for example, about trying to deal with this issue. I would like to know how those discussions are going and what we can look forward to.

Those are just three areas where there is an impact on the lives of individuals, and I think all of us have recognised that this issue is not one for a nice legal discussion but something that affects the lives of individuals in a big way. I am glad that this report has done its job in tackling the issue.

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