Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120
MONDAY 12 FEBRUARY 2001
CLARKE MP, MR
120. Is this something you have discussed with
your ministerial colleagues who have put this scheme in place
to give start-up funds for childminders?
(Mr Clarke) I have not personally discussed it with
colleague ministers in other departments. There has been a large
range of discussions between my officials and officials in other
departments around precisely this point. I do not know, Bob, whether
you can tell the Committee whether there has been specific discussion
on this point at official level?
(Mr Wright) I do not recall one.
(Mr Clarke) We do not recall one specifically on this.
121. You can see the point I am making, particularly
concerning joined-up government, and to some of us at least there
appeared to be a bit of an anomaly in this.
(Mr Clarke) There is an interesting argument which
has run through all of this which perhaps I can share with the
Committee. There is an argument that if it is in the policy interest
of, for the sake of argument, the Department of Education, the
Department of Health, the Department of Social Security, to encourage,
for example, childminding but it could extend to a large number
of other areas, they should pay for it rather than the Home Office
or somebody else paying for it. This has been an entertaining
discussion around departments
122. A nod is as good as a wink to a blind horse,
(Mr Clarke)and it is one which we are entirely
agnostic about. If, for policy grounds in another area, it is
thought to be beneficial to subsidise the certificates in another
area, that is fine as far as we are concerned, but our job is
to set up a system which works efficiently and effectively and
to charge hopefully a reasonable cost for that.
123. Mr Herdan, you are due to publish your
five year plan in March, is that still on course?
(Mr Herdan) Yes.
124. Are you confident that the systems you
have in place can cope with the problems which other parts of
the Home Office empire faced when similar systems have been started?
(Mr Herdan) Yes. It is a very complex project and
extremely challenging, not least because of all of these joined-up
government aspects you mentioned and we have to integrate and
pull together data bases from other government departments and
the police, so it is a challenging project. I am certainly confident
that all the plans are in place and the assessments of risk and
so on have been made. We will need some time to get everything
ready, we are certainly not going to go live with a service for
customers until we are confident that the testing programme has
been satisfactorily completed. It is going well, there is a lot
to do but it is going well, and I am confident it will come into
operation satisfactorily and not cause great problems. We have
to be careful to learn all those lessons from previous projects
and make sure we do not have the same problems.
125. For how much longer will you be doing the
work with the Bureau as well as the important job at the Passport
(Mr Herdan) My job is to cover both functions.
126. Will that remain the case?
(Mr Herdan) Yes.
127. For the foreseeable future?
(Mr Herdan) Yes.
Chairman: I see.
128. Can I just go back to childminding. The
Association did express very considerable concerns and there are
85,000 child minders, and when you say, "Not to worry because
those who will continue to pick up the cost of running this service
will be in business", and you say, "Only slightly higher
fees", the Childminding Association told us last week that
there is an initial registration fee of £12 and an inspection
fee of £10. How much do you expect to load on to them as
a result of this change?
(Mr Clarke) Firstly, to correct your question, if
I may, I did not say it was not an issue, I simply said that I
can acknowledge it is an issue but at the end of the day someone
has to pay for this service, it is going to be a very complex
service, as Mr Herdan has just indicated, and the question is
who pays for it.
129. It is paid for by the Government at the
(Mr Clarke) It could be a straight Exchequer grant
which comes through in the way it operates, or it could be each
government department paying in the way it does for each particular
service. What I said was, if there was a real matter of concern
here, then that was a matter for the most appropriate government
department to address in moving it forward, as I would say in
relation to other areas of employees where it arises, and that
is a perfectly legitimate thing for Government to say. As I said,
the amounts of money that would be charged for this I do not believe
are disproportionate when compared with the income derived over
a year or even over a shorter period than a year by an individual.
This is effectively a ticket to be able to practise in this area.
130. Yes, but you say the charge will be slightly
higher. In anticipation of making the announcement last weekand
as you said, "The way was clear", presumably in clearing
the way you had to discuss with the Treasury and other government
departments the fact that the burden which would have been assumed
by the voluntary sector, the contributions the voluntary sector
would have paid, towards the cost of Mr Herdan's services, are
now shifting to the commercial organisation including childmindersinstead
of being £10 for an advanced check, what do you think it
will be now?
(Mr Clarke) The position is that we will make our
announcement on the whole fee structure in due course, relatively
soon. The point I was trying to make is, when you take the costs
of what would have been the charge for the volunteers, that is
being subsidised from two sources. Firstly, an overall Exchequer
grant because of the overall government policy on volunteers,
and, secondly, to a very small extent, by the increase in charges
for employees, for example, childminders but others too, compared
to what they otherwise would have been paid. I am not in a position
to tell the Committee today precisely what those quantums are,
but I am saying the difference between the charge to, for example,
the childminder as a result of the decision we have taken on volunteers,
compared to if we had not taken that decision, is relatively small.
131. So if I get you right, what is happening
is that a large part of the cost of providing a service to the
voluntary organisations will be picked up directly by the Exchequer?
(Mr Clarke) Correct.
132. So there will be only a limited amount
which will feed through to the other users?
(Mr Clarke) That is absolutely correct.
Mr Howarth: Thank you.
133. I want to come on to the thorny question
of soft information, but before I do that can I welcome the announcement.
Certainly Big Brothers & Sisters, a very large mentoring organisation
based in my constituency, are very glad to have that assurance
about the voluntary sector. However, it does sound a bit as though
we will have the problem where childminders will be in a rather
invidious way asked to cross-subsidise the record checks on, for
instance, scout masters.
(Mr Clarke) Can I clarify that. It is not a question
that the childminders in particular will be asked for that, I
was asked a question about childminders as an example of employees.
It is the case that all employees right across the whole range
who work with children and vulnerable people will be in a position
of having to make somebut I emphasise relatively marginalcontribution
to the cost of what will be done through volunteering. The bulk,
as I said to Mr Howarth, will come directly by Exchequer grant.
Mr Linton: Can I move you on to soft information,
as it is described, in other words information that will be released
at the discretion of chief officers. There are considerable concerns
about this and obviously some of this has been highlighted in
the television programme which, for instance, mentioned the case
of the head teacher who, when he applied for another job, had
allegations about homosexual behaviour which had not even been
investigated by the police
Chairman: Forgive me, Mr Linton, it was a radio
programme; Radio 4.
134. Sorry, it was a radio programme.because
the boy who was the alleged victim had denied it. This was cited
to his prospective employers who cancelled his appointment on
the basis that he had a date in his application out by six months.
These are the kind of cases which can arise when information is
passed on from chief officers to prospective employers. What I
really would like to know is what kind of work will be done over
the next few months to ensure these registered bodies treat the
information they receive in an appropriate way?
(Mr Clarke) I think there are two things to say about
this and I will ask Mr Herdan to expand on my answer if he will.
Firstly, we have a very substantial process of inducting, if I
can put it like that, registered bodies. I was at the first seminar
which was held in London on this question. Registration will begin
in April, a brochure is being produced for potential registered
bodies, of which over 10,000 copies have been distributed, and
seminars are being held throughout England and Walesa total
of 20and so far we believe about 3,000 people have applied
to attend the seminars with about 2,500 expressing an interest
in becoming registered bodies. So there will be a very substantial
programme of induction of registered bodies to the rules and the
protocols which exist. In addition to that, we will of course
monitor extremely carefully the way in which the registered bodies
operate and take the situation forward to deal with the kind of
problems you are describing. That is the first aspect of it. The
second aspect is I think the fairly well publicised problem of
the quality of the data itself which the police hold. We have
a substantial programme on that to try and address it. You will
be familiar with the Inspectorate of Constabulary report on this
area which indicated significant problems. They are, of course,
very concerning to us and in fact there was a meeting just last
week with the Data Protection Commissioner, ACPO and the Inspectorate
of Constabulary, to discuss exactly how we can take this forward.
We are faced with a hard choice which is, do we simply accept
our data is not good enough and therefore we cannot do anything
in this field, or do we alternatively say, "We have to improve
the quality of the data" and work to that end in a culture
of operational independence of the police forces where we have
to work together with the forces to do it. So I do think it is
a two-pronged attack on the problem you have identified. Firstly,
establishing a registered-body regime and, secondly, seeking to
improve the quality of the data. With your permission, Chairman,
can I ask Mr Herdan if he would like to add anything to what I
(Mr Herdan) So far as the specific question of the
soft information is concerned, ACPO is putting out guidance to
police forces on what kind of information should be released and
in what circumstances. It will be the judgment of the nominated
chief officer in the police forcethe Assistant Chief Constablesto
make those judgments. That information will be passed to the registered
body and will form part of the disclosure that is also passed
to the individual. So an important difference compared to current
arrangements is that it will be more transparent. The individual
will receive the information at the same time as the registered
body and, except under very rare circumstances where the police
wish to say something privately, normally both parties will see
this soft information and there will be a fast track appeal system
so we will be able put right anything which is wrong. In the case
which was mentioned in that particular radio programme, it was
alleged they had the wrong individual, and that kind of thing
will come to light very quickly through the appeals system. The
registered bodies will be working under a code of practice, they
will be briefed and informed about how they should operate. As
the Minister has said, we currently now are running a whole series
of seminars to start briefing them and educating them on what
we expect from them, and there will be lots of guidance given
to them on how to handle that kind of sensitive information.
135. Cases of mistaken identity are relatively
easy, but in this case I quote, the chief officer really has to
distinguish between cases, at one extreme, of a person acquitted
on a legal technicality and, at the other extreme, a person who
has been maliciously accused. One has to decide, after a case
has been closed in whatever circumstances, whether you put it
down to malicious accusation or technical acquittal or somewhere
in between. That is a very difficult decision for even a chief
officer to make.
(Mr Herdan) These are the judgments they have to make
now of course under the current vetting arrangements, and I suppose
this is getting into the question of balance between protecting
the rights of the individual and protecting society in circumstances
where there are at least some suspicions about an individual,
and those are decisions which will be down to the police to take
also when the CRB is in existence.
136. What sort of penalties will there be for
registered bodies if they misuse the information disclosed to
(Mr Wright) The legislation includes a range of offences
for unauthorised disclosure. For example, a member officer or
employee of a registered body commits an offence if he discloses
information other than in the course of his duties to another
member, et cetera, et cetera, so unauthorised disclosure is an
137. What would happen in the cited case if
a registered body takes a decision on the basis of information
which the other person believes is unjustified. How can he challenge
it without revealing what the information is? In this case he
was refused a job, allegedly on the grounds that he got a date
wrong on his application form.
(Mr Wright) I am not familiar with the particular
case, but if the issue is that information was supplied by the
police and, then, looking at the future situation, where the CRB
is in operation, that information is supplied to the Criminal
Records Bureau, conveyed to a registered person and then passed
on. Then the blame must eventually go back to the police if that
information was incorrect.
138. The other aspect of this that has caused
some concern is, how do the organisations know what level of check
would be appropriate in different cases? Clearly many organisations
want to assure their customers, the users of their voluntary services
that they have the highest level of checks available. Who will
decide which level of check is available in each case?
(Mr Herdan) That is largely set out in the legislation
which defines the three levels of disclosure, they are called
certificates in the legislation, who is entitled to which level
of check. We will be providing interpretation of that to the registered
body networks, so they will know and they will be making those
decisions about which level of disclosure to request. They will
also be able to get that information from the Criminal Records
Bureau. There is a significant difference, I would say, compared
to the current arrangements, in that many more people will be
able to get the highest level of disclosure information in all
these jobs where they have regular contact with children or vulnerable
adults. A lot of the complaints at the moment are that the police
will not give this information out. Obviously the CRB Police Act,
Part V legislation changes quite a lot of that and makes it less
restrictive and narrower in its definition.
139. Mr Boateng drew a distinction between somebody
who takes a scout summer camp and somebody who works on a Wednesday
night as a volunteer with a Scout troop. Will people within the
same voluntary organisation have different levels of
(Mr Herdan) Yes. The Scout Association are very likely
to be a registered body in their own right. They will get to know
very well what the rules are about which level of disclosure and
which kind of activity and they will operate that. Then we will
have a compliance audit role to make sure that the rules are not
being abused by any organisation.
(Mr Clarke) One obligation I want to emphasise is
the obligation on the CRB, ACPO, the Home Office and registered
organisations themselves to give clear guidance which is mutually
compatible. That is something which is very much within the CRB's
terms of reference, working closely with the Home Office. I hope
the levels of misunderstanding which have arisen across different
departments, different types of occupation and in different organisations
will not arise. That is not to say there will not be issues of
judgment on the margin in all cases, there will be. The guidance
as to how it should be operated I hope will be clear and transparent.