Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1
TUESDAY 6 FEBRUARY 2001
Chairman: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.
Welcome to this meeting of the Home Affairs Committee. As you
know, we are starting today our inquiry into the Criminal Records
Bureau. We want to find out whether we think the resources are
available to enable the Bureau to meet the terms of its operational
plan, how reliable is the information supplied by the Bureau,
and the likely effect of the policy of charging voluntary organisations
to use the service. Mr Russell.
Bob Russell: Mr Chairman, I must declare an
interest, in that I am Secretary of the Parliamentary All-Party
Scout Group and a member of the Parliamentary All-Party Guide
Chairman: Thank you for that. I hope the Groups
are doing well. I am sure they are, if you have anything to do
with it. Well done.
1. I would like to ask some questions. We have
received a large number of representations from voluntary organisations,
obviously your two, but many others, who are concerned about the
cost. Can I get the position absolutely clear. Have you any objection
to the Criminal Records Bureau, as such?
(Mr Twine) In principle, Chairman, no objection to
the existence of the Criminal Records Bureau, and, as far as we
are concerned, as with many organisations, actually we welcome
the advent of what the Criminal Records Bureau will provide, in
addition to our existing child protection measures. It is the
cost implication and the UK-wide implication which are our two
2. And that is the view of The Guide Association?
(Mrs Ryall) It is, indeed, exactly the same.
3. Before this comes into operation, which,
as I understand it, is sometime later this year, though there
is a question-mark whether, in fact, it will be the position,
what about your own records? It could be argued, and do not misunderstand
me, but playing the devil's advocate, effectively, if you carried
out records, as a well-known, respected, national organisation
of long standing, on people who become involved with children,
it should not really be necessary for the state to intervene?
(Mr Twine) It would be very nice, Chairman, if that
was the case. We do have a fairly robust system, we have had this
in place for well over 40 years, and this includes our own records,
it includes taking up references, it includes local interviews,
and it is very rigorous, and in The Scout Association alone we
are conducting 70,000 checks each year. What the Criminal Records
Bureau will provide is additional information, which would not
otherwise be available to us. Up until recently, we did have free
access, to supplement our own checks, with the DfEE information
and with information from the Department of Health; that has now
been taken away from us, as a free service, to be incorporated
into the CRB information. And that information is an additional
adjunct, another tool in the toolbox, for what we require to be
absolutely rigorous in our responsibilities for childcare. And
the information about criminal records is not otherwise available
to us, and that is criminal records not just of cases found guilty
but also of the soft information, which can advise us that this
might be a person who is unsuitable to work for and with young
people. So, from The Scout Association's perspective, whilst we
have developed a rigorous approach, and we believe that is as
sound as we can have made it so far, we would be failing in our
duty of care if we did not avail ourselves of the extra information
which CRB will be providing.
4. But, if I can just pursue the point, Mr Twine,
you mention your research and efforts to make sure all is in order
for working with children in the Scouts movement, but, however
robust it has been, have you discovered that it has not been anywhere
near as effective as you would like; because a number of cases
have come to light, court cases, where abuse, or attempted abuse,
of children has taken place?
(Mr Twine) That is right. Chairman, we set this into
context of doing 70,000 checks each year; out of those 70,000,
it is about 300 which give us some cause for concern. But, in
that 300, that includes concern for such things as attitude towards
safety or recklessness in outdoor activities, financial irregularities,
and we are a charity with charitable funds, so we have to be concerned
about that. So, in the total of all of that, we are talking of
no more than 30 people each year about whom the checks identify
that we would have a concern of a child protection nature. I then
go to complete the response, that, when we look at each year for
the past number of years, it is about ten cases each year that
we have evidence that leads to very serious concern of someone
being found guilty of a child protection case; and, in each of
those ten, that has occurred in the last few years, that has been
a first-time offender, so there was no criminal record from a
court which could have been available to us. It may have been
the case that soft information from a police investigation through
a CRB check might have thrown that up; but that is fewer than
ten, in a year, in the context of 70,000 checks.
5. Yes, I take the point. It would also be correct,
would it not, and perhaps this applies more to men than to women,
that those who have a wish to be involved with the Scouts movement,
as adults, and have the real objective of abusing children while
they are in contact with them, might see the Scouts as a good
opportunity of doing what we all deeply deplore, and which undoubtedly
(Mr Twine) Absolutely, Mr Chairman. We recognise very
much that organisations such as ours are a soft target for direct
contact with young people, for informal grooming over a period
of time, and for using the opportunity of sustained, unsupervised
access with youngsters for actually abusing young people, and
we take our concern in that very, very seriously. It is also an
issue, if I may just develop that at the moment, that such adults
who are interested in abusing young people do not respect territorial
boundaries, and, whilst the CRB is being established as an England
and Wales operation, we are a United Kingdom organisation, as
is The Guide Association and many other voluntary organisations,
and we have grave concerns about the ability for exchange of information,
for a single-stop check, for the whole of the United Kingdom.
And, of course, on the funding issue, the very fact that the Scottish
Parliament has agreed that checks for volunteers will be not charged
for, in Scotland, there is no arrangement for charging in Northern
Ireland at the moment, we know that the Welsh Assembly is concerned
about this, and we are gravely concerned about a disequality of
the operational information and the disequality of the charging
policy throughout the four home countries.
6. I will come to that in a moment; but, when
you said the Scouts movement can be a soft touch for those whose
behaviour is so deplorable and criminal, would you, Mrs Ryall,
take the view that that would be the position in The Guide Association,
or that it is not really a problem?
(Mrs Ryall) It is not really a problem in The Guide
Association. Our own risk assessments and, indeed, our own history
show that the risk for young women in The Guide Association comes
from the extended contacts of the women involved, and, of course,
even with the criminal record checking system, we would not be
checking husbands, brothers, boyfriends, and so on, of guiders.
We have relied very heavily on our application procedure to screen
out anyone who might be a risk, and the risk is, indeed, very
small; and I would not want to suggest that women do not abuse
girls, because, in fact, there are cases of women abusing girls.
But what we do is, we rely quite heavily on those people working
in a community context, over a long period of time, where people
know them, they understand them, and if anything happens it is
not too long before we hear about it, and therefore they are filtered
out. We also give people six months of working in a programme
after they have joined us, in order for us to assess whether or
not they are suitable to work with children, and at that point
they will be either confirmed, they will have filtered themselves
out, or we will not confirm the appointment. So, from our point
of view, the Criminal Records Bureau would add, in fact, very
little, because I would suggest that the number of women on any
banned list would be very few.
7. Thank you. You all are concerned, all the
organisations that have written to us, not simply those we are
seeing today but a large number of voluntary organisations, you
are concerned over the cost, which Mr Twine, at least, has mentioned.
What would be the argument, indeed, taking the point which Mrs
Ryall has just made, that it is not really necessary, it is not
compulsory to use the Criminal Records Bureau, Mrs Ryall has just
told us, it is not going to add much, what would you say to that,
Mr Twine; say the Scout movement says, "It's not necessarily
compulsory, we have our own records and that's the end of it"?
(Mr Twine) I think, if I may, Mr Chairman, that when
our members have received such a suggestion from Government Ministers
and from civil servants, in the response to the letters they have
sent in, they have regarded such a view as being rather incredulous,
because not only do our parents expect us to do everything available
to us for child protection, so do our insurers, so does society
at large. We would contend that, if we found ourselves not using
the CRB, that someone had slipped through, had abused a child,
or children, we found ourselves with a court case, we were asked,
"Well, did you not use the CRB?" and we said, "No,"
we would be found, if not legally guilty, morally guilty, and
our insurers would be less than standing by us; and then voluntary
effort in this country would be diminished, because credibility
of voluntary youth work would be significantly diminished.
(Mrs Ryall) I would endorse that view, actually.
8. It certainly would make sense to me, as I
am sure it does to all my colleagues round the table.
(Mr Twine) If I may supplement that, very briefly,
as well, the work and the wording in the Criminal Justice and
Court Service Act, of just last year, makes it quite clear that
we are expected, as a voluntary organisation, to do everything
which is reasonable, it does not specify that we must do checks,
but if I may quote for the record here, it does, and I quote,
require us "to maintain a culture of vigilance, including
carrying out checks, and that may help to demonstrate that all
available means were used to protect children should any manner
of legal difficulty later arise." So, whilst not quoted explicitly
that checks are obligatory, even in law it is implied that there
is an expectation we should do everything available to us.
9. So the upshot really is this. You welcome
the setting up of the Criminal Records Bureau, you intend to take
advantage of it, for all the reasons that you have both stated,
but your concern is over the cost. Now, as I understand it, it
will be approximately £10 for each inquiry, is that so?
(Mr Twine) That is correct, for the level of inquiry
and disclosure which we require, which is the Enhanced Disclosure,
on the basis that it is that level of disclosure which gives us
the additional information that we need for our duty and culture
10. So, on average, as we now see it, £10
per inquiry. How much would it cost the Scouts movement, nationally,
in a year?
(Mr Twine) Nationally, Chairman, that is three-quarters
of a million pounds; we are looking at 70,000 checks each year,
of different individuals, on top of which there is then the service
interaction of additional members of staff which we are going
to have to employ anyway to do the extra work and to have the
interface with the CRB. And I would be very content to acknowledge
that the registration cost to be a Registered Body and the operational
cost, as being a responsible, national organisation, we are content
to bear, provided that, obviously, they are reasonable. They have
yet to be declared; but we are prepared to accept we have a responsibility
to engage with those set-up costs. It is the `per check' cost
which is the significant issue here.
11. Now would that three-quarters of a million
come from the headquarters, because we have had a memorandum from
the Surrey Scouts movement; explain to us, if you would, Mr Twine,
where that money would come from, if, at the end of the day, you
had to pay it?
(Mr Twine) There will be two options that we have
considered, and our trustees have taken a view on the two options;
the two options are either that we require the individual applicant
to fork up the £10 himself, or herself,
12. The parent, in fact, in practice?
(Mr Twine) No, it would be the person coming forward
to volunteer; the person coming forward to volunteer is an option,
that we make that a direct charge. We are gravely concerned about
taking that route, because we have externally researched evidence
that up to 60 per cent of volunteers would be deterred by being
given a levy at the point when one is trying to recruit them.
In many areas, particularly to do with social exclusion, we are
finding great difficulty in obtaining people to volunteer in their
local community, and in the active disincentive are saying, "I
know you've never volunteered before, I know it's not part of
what your community usually does, but we would desperately like
you to do this; but, by the way, we want £10 from you,"
we know would be an active disincentive of up to 60 per cent of
volunteers. For us, that means 40,000 fewer volunteers each year.
So that is seen to be the severe downside of charging each volunteer.
In terms of as an organisation, then that becomes, therefore,
three-quarters of a million pounds onto our budget; and, if I
have got to find an extra three-quarters of a million pounds on
my budget, I have to do that by some sort of balance between reducing
our services to provide support for the volunteers, or by increasing
my revenue. And my sources for increasing revenue are to pass
that on in membership subscription increases, or to pass that
on into charitable fund-raising for what, we contend, should be
out of the public purse, rather than, yet again, a burden on charitable
13. I did ask if it is going to be paid by the
Scouts movement; you have indicated in your reply it will be at
the national level, it will not be the local sections, as such,
is that right?
(Mr Twine) That is the correct deduction from how
our trustees have approached this. We believe that, if a charge
is levied, we are so committed to needing to recruit volunteers,
in areas where volunteers are recruiting, that we would make every
endeavour to bear that somehow, centrally, even if that had to
mean a reduction in service, rather than put it as a fee on the
new volunteer, because we would lose so many, and, our contention
is, that is not just from scouting but from every other organisation
14. How much would it cost, nationally, The
Guide Association, Mrs Ryall, if, at the end of it all, you had
(Mrs Ryall) We have taken a very pragmatic approach
to if we had to do this, so we have confined the number of people
that we would have to check to those who work directly, face-to-face,
with young people, and who would therefore require the enhanced
check; and we estimate that as being 45,000 people a year, so
that would be £450,000 that we would have to find simply
to check those who work face-to-face with the girls. In addition
to that, we would have to set up some combined structures, because
we pride ourselves quite well in having standards across the United
Kingdom, standards in appointments, standards in training, standards
in how people are referenced and checked, and we would want to
ensure that those standards are maintained, if we use the Criminal
Records Bureau. And this is back again to Derek's point about
the inequality of treatment across the United Kingdom, and the
fact that we may end up having to incorporate three or four different
sets of standards and administration into how currently we do
our appointments; and the cost of that, of course, is as yet unknown,
but we would have to bear that.
Mr Winnick: So, though the sum is less overall,
you would be faced with the same sort of financial problem as
Mr Twine has said. You see, it might be said, you said that it
would deter volunteers, but since £10 in these inflation
days is, whatever it is, how many
Mr Howarth: Four pints of beer.
15. Yes, or two cinema tickets, or the rest.
Being somewhat, again, a devil's advocate, £10 is not what
it was 30 years ago, which would have been the value of over £100.
Again, if that point is made to you by Ministers, what is really
£10 these days, however unfortunate inflation has been, what
would you say?
(Mr Twine) Regardless of how people in this room might
feel about £10, Chairman, our work, and indeed our best growth,
in recent years, in our kind of youth work, is in areas of severe
social exclusion, it is in areas of acute poverty, it is in areas
where we are working with young people with criminal records,
with themselves delinquency, who we are trying to have adults
to do something for and with, in their own local communities.
Let alone the fact that £10 is very serious for them, the
very concept of charging, when they may or may not be accepted
or may or may not be turned away, is going to be so grave, in
terms of the volume of people who will be put off volunteering;
and that really is, we would be saying colloquially, cutting off
our nose to spite our face, just our own organisation alone. If
I go to Treasury sort of speak, in terms of money, with The Scout
Association's warranted leaders alone, providing the youth work
which they do, if they were paid at the money of a paid youth-worker
for a local authority, we are delivering, free of charge, £320
million worth of youth work in this country, and there are similar
figures for the Guides and many other organisations. And, if we
were to lose 40 or 50 or 60 per cent of that, that is the figure
that I set against £10 a head, or £750,000.
Mr Winnick: That is a very good argument to
the points that I was making as a devil's advocate. I tend to
agree entirely with what you said, Mr Twine.
16. You are both assuming that there is going
to be a standard £10 fee for whatever level of certificate
you want, and I bet my bottom dollar that, if there is charging,
they are going to want a lot more for the enhanced one than they
will for the ordinary one, if I know the world?
(Mr Twine) The information which we have, Chairman,
is £10 for the enhanced certificate, and the others may be
less; but that is still open to the results from the impact assessment.
17. I would like to pursue this point, if I
may, because, although I have received very strong representations
from friends of mine in the Scout movement in Hampshire, indeed
in my own constituency, in Farnborough, nevertheless, I do find
it difficult to criticise a suggestion that volunteers be asked
to pay £10, when the alternative is that the organisation
they wish to help will be effectively bankrupted by the imposition
of those charges, were the organisation to have to meet the full
cost. And can I put this, to a certain extent, as a devil's advocate
argument, that, given that those who want to come forward and
volunteer are public-spirited people, that they understand the
nature of the society in which we live and the danger that young
people are exposed to today, would they not be willing, and would
it not become part of accepted practice, that they would expect
to pay the £10, which, as I suggested to Mr Winnick, is about
four pints of beer, if the alternative was forcing the organisations
to reach very significant sums of money in their own right?
(Mrs Ryall) May I answer?
(Mr Twine) Yes, you may. I am calming myself before
(Mrs Ryall) It is a fact that some people can afford
to pay, and some people cannot. There is a philosophical question
here, in that, commonsensically, what volunteers believe, and
volunteers believe that they are giving something to society,
and they give willingly, and they give long, and they give a lot.
To be faced with, "If you want to enter the volunteering
field," let's forget about organisations, for the moment,
"if you want to be a volunteer with young people, you will
first have to pay to get yourself a criminal record check,"
now the message being given there is that we give to the public
all this £320 million plus worth of work and we still pay
for the privilege of giving that. And when I am talking to guiders,
and so on, in places like Bristol and Glasgow, and all sorts of
other places, they will say, "If I had to pay this, for myself,
I wouldn't be here, or I'd have to pay £1 a week."
18. But, surely, if they are on the point of
committing themselves to a huge amount of time, effort, commitment,
devotion to a cause, they are the sort of people who will understand
the need to make sure that they have met all the requirements?
(Mrs Ryall) I would suggest, also, that they are the
sort of people who understand that in giving you also receive,
and that, in providing services to other people's children, which
would otherwise have to be supplied by the state, or other bodies,
there should also be a partnership with those who expect this
work to be delivered by the voluntary sector. And I guess that
the way that they would look at that is to say that it is a public
duty to have clearance, in terms of police checks, and so on,
therefore it should be borne by the public purse, and we will
do everything else; and that is genuinely how many of these people
feel. And it is feelings and emotions, I think, that are engaged
when people volunteer, rather than rationale, and that is my experience.
19. And you are suggesting that, if this were
to come to pass and the requirement were for a payment of £10
for the Enhanced Disclosure certificate, there would not develop
a natural acceptance across the Scout and Guide movement that
that was all part of the arrangements, and that what we are seeing
at the moment is a battle, which once it was over would be accepted?
I pose the question to you.
(Mr Twine) Can I comment, as well, if I may. It is
not just the willingness, it is the ability; and the genuine concern
which we would have as well, and I take the same position as Terry
on this, is that it is an issue about volunteering in society.
If we are to have a situation where the only volunteers are the
volunteers who are able to pay to be a volunteer then we are back
to a situation of decades ago, when volunteering is the preserve
of those who are in areas of personal positions of social and
financial affluence. Which is actually the reverse direction from
what we believe we are trying to commit ourselves to, to addressing
social exclusion, to addressing areas of abject poverty, and to
encouraging, not discouraging, a concept and a practice of volunteering
from those who have never before volunteered in their community,
when we expect them to give of their time, their energy, their
commitment, their vision, their values, and yet we are going to
charge them for the privilege of doing so.