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Criminal Records Bureau

Volume 703: debated on Thursday 17 July 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What action they are taking to ensure that the Criminal Records Bureau gives accurate information to those referred to it.

My Lords, the quality control procedures at the Criminal Records Bureau are geared to achieving the highest level of accuracy. The CRB carries out a post-disclosure accuracy check, which analyses all aspects of the disclosure application and its issue. This is based on a statistical sample of disclosure applications, from which it can be ascertained that the accuracy rate for 2007-08 is 99.98 per cent.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer, but I am afraid that it does not accord with public perception. The much vaunted system of Criminal Records Bureau checks seems to have descended into farce and chaos. Will he at least ensure that, where there are allegations that a criminal record has been incorrectly attributed to someone, the appeal is determined within 14 days rather than the nearly three months that it takes at present?

My Lords, I do not agree with that characterisation of the CRB, which has been hugely successful. Obviously our foremost priority is to help to protect children and vulnerable adults by assisting organisations in doing these checks. We understand all the difficulties and the effect that they can have on people but, over the past 12 months, 3.4 million record checks have been carried out, of which 680 were slightly wrong. There is a clear method for resolving disputes. Compared with the old system, where no one knew what was being said about them, one of the benefits of the new system is that people who had been refused jobs for years were suddenly able to find out, because they had sight of their record, the reason why they were being refused. They were able to challenge it and, on a couple of occasions, they have been able to resolve it. This has been a good move. On timescales, we would like to do better. I think that we are down to 21 days now rather than the figure that was quoted, but obviously we would like to make it less. Overall, however, what has been achieved has been very impressive.

My Lords, the Minister mentioned timing. I am sure that nobody would dispute the need for accuracy in this matter, but one of the unfortunate by-products is that a large number of volunteers who wish to be involved in work with children find that inordinate delays in the process prevent them from coming forward for the work. That must be of considerable concern to the organisations that need those people. What steps are being taken to speed up the process, particularly in an area where there is such a demand for the work?

My Lords, the noble Lord raises an important point. What is good is that we do this with no charge, as it is important to encourage and help people going voluntarily into a number of areas, such as the cadet forces. I do not have detailed answers on timescales and problems. I know that one of the problems with getting volunteers into this area is that some of them feel that the checks that are made on them are rather more than they feel that they should have when they are volunteering. That is a difficult issue, but we have to conduct these checks. I will get back to the noble Lord in writing on the specifics of timings and any details of exactly what we are doing on that.

My Lords, there is a vast variation between police forces in the time that they take to get back to the CRB with the data required. The CRB is supposed to be helping those forces that are not meeting the target times. Does the Minister think that that help is sufficient?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right. I think that the answer is probably yes. Of course there is a variation between standard disclosure and enhanced disclosure. For enhanced disclosure, where somebody is going to have personal one-on-one contact with a child or with someone who is vulnerable, we go into more detailed information with local police forces. That clearly takes longer, so the time does vary between cases.

My Lords, does the noble Lord realise that it is not only the cadet forces that are affected? He mentioned them because he knows about them, but many thousands of young people are not able to join the guide and scout movement because leaders are simply not prepared to be put through the mill in this respect. People are extremely worried about this and the whole thing is completely out of proportion.

My Lords, I understand what the noble Baroness is saying. I referred to the cadet forces because I know about them. I have dealt with a lot of volunteers in these areas and I understand that sometimes they can feel a bit offended that they are being checked so carefully, but it is incumbent on us to make sure. We cannot put volunteers in these positions if there is a risk of them being a danger to people. It is difficult, but we have to do it. I understand from both sides what the issue is. We have some remarkably good people who are willing to give up their time. I understand how they feel but, my goodness, we have to be sure.

My Lords, following my noble friend’s question, are the Government fully aware of the real crisis in the voluntary sector, where many people, particularly those volunteering, are refusing to undertake any work with children because of the onerous and time-consuming need for a CRB check?

My Lords, I had hoped that I had covered that. The answer is yes and it is something that we will have to work at. Often one does not give enough credit to the people who give up time. I declare an interest in that I am involved with vocational qualifications for cadets and instructors. We are able to give degrees through this system to instructors, which encourages them and shows that we value them. I believe that what they do is crucial for our society. It is one area that helps in so many ways to change how people behave, particularly youngsters.

My Lords, can the Minister assure us that all the information held by the CRB is held exclusively under British jurisdiction and subject to British criminal law?

My Lords, I am pretty certain that I can confirm that, but I will make absolutely certain and write to the noble Lord. He touches on an interesting area: getting details and information about people in these areas who are not British. We are in a lot of negotiations at the moment to ensure that we can get the same accurate coverage as we have of British people.

My Lords, does the Minister have any concerns about reports that the full recommendations of the Soham inquiry on the exchange of information have not been implemented?

My Lords, I am afraid that I do not know the details of that. I will write to the noble Lord, if I may.