Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180
MONDAY 12 FEBRUARY 2001
CLARKE MP, MR
180. What about the budget for 2001-02, can
we have that figure?
(Mr Clarke) I think we are again in exactly the same
position. I am sorry to be unhelpful.
Mr Howarth: Forgive me, Minister, but I must
say, welcome as last week's decision was, this has got all the
hallmarks of a panic decision either in advance of William Hague's
announcement to the National Council for Voluntary Organisations
or, indeed, such being the reputation of this Committee, in anticipation
of your appearance here today.
Bob Russell: Absolutely.
Mr Howarth: We are trying to investigate this
issue. It is not rocket science that we are looking at. It does
appear that we just cannot get any information about the figures.
We were told by the NCVO last week that Government has given estimations
for the total cost of exempting volunteers and this varied from
£48 million to £200 million. Nobody seems to have a
handle on this business.
181. Shall we start buying the Comprehensive
Spending Review for the next three years, would that assist us?
(Mr Clarke) I will tell you exactly where we are,
Chairman. We are on a timetable to try to get the CRB up and running
as fast as possible and as accurately as possible, which we are
targeting in the way that we are. There is a substantial roll-out
programme. The roll-out programme includes the work we have mentioned,
for example on registered bodies, but it also includes the precise
business planning arrangements to be able to establish where we
are with all the points that Mr Howarth has made as we have gone
through. We had not intended to bring this into the public arena,
because we had not finished the work on all these points, at the
point where we are now in early to mid February. However, once
your Committee decided that it would meet, we felt that it was
important to try to address what we understood from the terms
of reference of the Committee was a key point that you had set
out, which was the question of charging to volunteering. Of course,
the Government was acutely aware of the very many submissions
that had been made by many Members of the House on this question,
so we endeavoured to get to an answer to that point earlier than
we would otherwise have done, because of the meetings of this
Committee. In that sense Mr Howarth is quite right, it is the
tiger-ish reputation of this Committee which has caused the change,
and I think the Committee should congratulate itself on its reputation
and power in these areas.
182. Sucking up to us will not do you any good
but we like it all the same.
(Mr Clarke) That is the fact. We are still not in
a position, however, to publish in a coherent way all the various
other financial elements which add up to the budget, the business
plan, the fees and so on. We want to keep on our timetable to
be able to do that in accordance with when we launch the document.
There is work being done literally on a week-by-week basis to
refine these facts and move them forward. Mr Herdan referred,
for example, to estimates about the volume of enquiries that will
come through which are drawn from the seminars of registered bodies.
I am sorry if it is inadequate but I am loath to give any particular
little snapshot of any bit of information which could be misleading,
other than taken in the whole. What I am ready to do, and keen
to do, is when we do have the full package to let you have an
absolutely full statement of every aspect of it in every regard,
but I could not guarantee what Mr Fabricant was asking earlier
on, that we can do that within the passage of the time of this
183. I understand that you want to exercise
caution, and you are right to do so, but you have undertaken to
say what the pay back period will be. In order to produce a pay
back period you know as well as I that you have got to know what
the income is going to be. To know what the income is going to
be you have to make projections as to demand. In order to get
the final equation into it, or the final answer, you have got
to know what the fee is going to be. Can I make this point before
I go on to one final question. Businesses too have their budgets
and you have got to be fair to them, so the sooner you can get
this information into the public domain the better, because you
are going on stream, as you say, late summer and businesses are
trying to budget for next year and the year after and they cannot
do so until the fee structure is made public. That needs to be
done as soon as possible.
(Mr Clarke) Chairman, I completely accept that point,
it is a well made point and it is one that we accept. Mr Wright
just had a point on some of the figures that were made earlier,
can he just add a point in answer?
(Mr Wright) You quoted some very wide figures of numbers
of volunteers and income and so on and so forth. Can I just say
that they were at a very early stage when the legislation was
going through in 1996-97 and there was no clear idea as to how
many volunteers there were and how many of them would apply at
the different levels of certificates, different levels of fees
and so on and so forth. That was very much "it could be as
little as so and so, it could be as much as so and so", which
was how that figure of 200 million-odd originated. That was way
back in 1996-97 during the passage of the legislation.
184. No doubt if the NCVO's information was
based on more recent knowledge from the Government they will tell
us, but otherwise I am happy to accept your point.
(Mr Wright) I think the witness was quoting from the
figures that were quoted at the time of the legislation.
(Mr Clarke) Could I be helpful, Chairman, as always,
of course. Would it be helpful if I gave a commitment to the Committee
that we will publish to the Committee the information that you
are looking for by the end of March this year and, therefore,
well before any launch date and, therefore, meeting some of the
points Mr Fabricant made? If I can give that commitment then I
am happy to do that.
185. If you found that you were able to do it
a fortnight earlier then even better.
(Mr Clarke) I will do my very best to do it before
that but I am prepared to commit myself to the end of March.
186. One final area of questioning. We have
spoken about the evidence in terms of soft evidence, but with
regard to hard evidence that is going to be dependent, I believe,
on the Police National Computer and Phoenix. As they say in relation
to computers "rubbish in, rubbish out". The Data Protection
Commissioner recently said "The current state of Phoenix
data must call into question how well the Secretary of State,
in the guise of the CRB, can discharge his responsibilities under
Part V of the Police Act 1997 when issuing conviction certificates."
Basically she is saying she does not think much of the accuracy
of the PNC.
(Mr Clarke) This is a major concern, Chairman, as
Mr Fabricant correctly addresses. The Inspectorate produced data
on this last year and the conclusion they drew in their latest
report, On the Record, which was published in July 2000,
was "Overall Her Majesty's Inspector considers the level
and nature of errors, omissions and discrepancies found to be
totally unacceptable", that is the phrase of the Inspectorate,
"especially given that many of these same observations were
made in the 1998 Report. They reflect an unprofessional approach
to data quality by forces". That is a pretty serious set
of indictments by the Inspectorate and it is one that we take
exceptionally seriously because Mr Fabricant's observations about
garbage in, garbage out are obviously right. Therefore, firstly,
we are delighted that ACPOthe Association of Chief Police
Officershas produced a Compliance Strategy for forces to
implement. That is an important first step to get us to a situation
where all forces are prepared to comply with the basic requirements
of data quality which not only the Inspectorate but everybody
thinks are necessary. We are continuing to monitor what is happening
there and to that end, as I said earlier, the Data Protection
Commissioner has had a meeting with representatives of ACPO and
the Inspectorate and colleague officials of mine in the Home Office
to map out a plan of further action, which we hope will lead to
a very significant improvement. Perhaps I can take this opportunity
to say how much we welcome the positive attitude that the Data
Protection Commissioner has shown and the co-operation that she
has offered to help achieve the result that all of us want. As
I said in answer to Mr Linton, we are faced with a very hard choice
here. It is whether we say the data situation is so serious that
we basically abandon the project or we say the other way around,
that we are determined to improve the data to a level that we
have to achieve. The combination of that and what we are trying
to do in IT generally is the course that we have decided to follow.
I am aware that is not a very satisfactory answer, Chairman, but
I think it is the only truthful answer I can give, which is we
recognise the problem and we are doing what we can to sort it
out with the co-operation of everybody as rapidly as possible.
187. Can you just give us some idea of time?
The PNC record base will never be perfect, no record base is ever
perfect, but you are aiming to improve on it, to get reasonable
reliability, and yet you are starting this scheme at the end of
the summer. How big an overlap is there going to be between the
start of the CRB scheme and reasonable accuracy, if you like,
from the PNC?
(Mr Clarke) I will ask Mr Herdan and Mr Wright if
they want to add to the situation. The Compliance Strategy was
endorsed by the ACPO Council in spring last year, a considerable
time ago, and it now includes performance indicators, which were
also important for each force as to how they move forward. We
do now have a plan of action, agreed on 9 February, to take it
forward seeking a dramatic change in performance. The outstanding
action plans will be expedited. The Data Protection Commissioner's
office will discuss the action plans with ACPO, the Inspectorate
will consult with ACPO regarding future auditing arrangements
and PITO will be engaged on the development of the strategy to
provide appropriate IT support.
188. Have you set any time target for it to
(Mr Clarke) No, we have not. We have set a process
for it. I wonder if Mr Herdan could add anything on time to help
(Mr Herdan) I do not think so. It is a process of
continuous improvement that we are embarked on, I do not think
there is a hard and fast date where we can say "right, everything
is now good enough that everything is going to be fine".
I think it is going to be a continuous improvement process. HMIC
will be involved in this with us as well.
189. We had better have some, Mr Herdan, had
we not, because in the File on 4 programme it was said:
"In 1997, the Metropolitan Police compared computer records
with the original documents held at a sample of 15 police divisions.
The auditors found an overall error rate of 64 per cent and recommended
an urgent programme of improvement. Last year the Met returned
to the same police divisions and found the records had become
even more inaccurate." On that evidence this is not an improving
record at the moment, is it?
(Mr Herdan) There is a lot to be done but, of course,
these large percentagesI do not wish to diminish the significance
of the problemwhich are quoted by the media, 60/70/80 per
cent errors, are every kind of error or omission, including the
colour of people's eyes and the fact the postcode is missing as
well as the things that are very important.
190. The colour of somebody's eyes could be
absolutely critical to making sure we have got the right person.
(Mr Herdan) Probably not to the CRB in fact.
191. Somewhere I saw a case of somebody contesting
the police record precisely on that basis.
(Mr Herdan) The point I was making
192. The suspect had got brown eyes and the
applicant had got blue.
(Mr Herdan) The point I was making, which is not quite
the best example, was many of the details on those police records
will not affect the accuracy of our service, but clearly there
is still a lot to do and we need to work with the police to achieve
193. It goes on to say "In one police division,
Vauxhall," which is a part of London, I think, "the
error rate was found to be 100 per cent". That is pretty
(Mr Clarke) The Home Office certainly does not have
a defence against the charge that the police records system is
seriously inadequate, that is why I quoted at the beginning the
Inspectorate of Constabulary's Report. This has been the case
consistently for a very long period of time and it is exacerbated
by the fact that we have hand data collection so that, for example,
basic data about you or I in a police station is filled in by
hand at a series of points and we have not got proper IT connections
and all the rest of it. It is a very bad state of affairs and
it is one the Government gives a very high priority to solving.
194. It is not just that, Minister, because
this goes on to say "The delay in entering court results
into the police computer system varies from 25 days in the best
force" and that is long enough, is it not, "to 413 days
in the worst", that is over a year?
(Mr Clarke) It is the same thing
195. This is between the courts and the Police
(Mr Clarke) As I said earlier, Chairman, you have
got six agencies herepolice, prisons, probation, crown
courts, magistrates' courts, CPSall of which are seriously
under-invested historically with the proper information technology
and which are not properly connected in the way that they operate
between themselves. That is why these mistakes have arisen, because
the data is being collected by a wide range of different people
in different ways, by hand and not inter-connected. We have a
major programme on hand, called the NSPIS Casework and Custody
System, to address that and sort it through, not to do with the
CRB points in particular but because we need a far better system
right across the whole system.
196. Should you not get a grip and set some
targets, you are the Minister?
(Mr Clarke) Mr Wright is going to say something.
(Mr Wright) The first piece of action that is being
taken is, following the Inspectorate Report, each of the 43 forces
was asked to produce an action plan by this month to set out how
it was going to implement the ACPO Compliance Strategy, and those
reports are coming in now. The Inspectorate of Constabulary will
itself assess and evaluate those reports. Not all of them are
yet in, so one of the first pieces of action will be to chase
those which are not. The Compliance Strategy includes quantified
performance indicators so, to pick up the particular point about
entering court results on to the system, the target will be 100
per cent within three days of receipt of the information from
the courts. That is the target they will be working towards and
the Inspectorate will be looking
197. But no target when it is to be achieved,
that is the problem. There is no target about when we should be
getting reasonable accuracy and no target as to how quickly it
can be entered?
(Mr Wright) There are also a number of targets about
accuracy, although gauging, measuring and monitoring accuracy
is more difficult. If I can just pick up a wider point. The Phoenix
application is a wide-ranging application which is intended for
police operational and investigative purposes as well as for logging
information about convictions. So a lot of the information is
on there which is critical for investigative purposes, like colour
of eyes, although I think many policemen would doubt whether the
colour of eyes is critical when you are dealing with a crime on
(Mr Wright) I understand that the Inspectorate found
that most of the errors or omissions were about things like colour
of eyes, height, colour of hair and so on and so forth, and not
about conviction data, which is the sort of data that the CRB
will be drawing off the system. That is not to minimise the problem,
if there are problems there they must be addressed. One of the
worst problems is the problem of delay in getting information
on to the system in the first place. As I said, there is a quantified
target that forces have got to work towards.
199. Do you want to add something, Minister?
(Mr Clarke) Firstly, it is right not to minimise the
problem but it is also right, on the other hand, to say that we
are trying to change and transform a culture which has become
well established through the whole criminal justice system over
a very long period of time, and that is down to management leadership,
it is down to providing resource for the technology which can
help solve these problems, and changing work practices in a wide
variety of different ways. I quite understand Mr Fabricant's drive
for targets, I do not think the Government can be criticised for
a lack of targets in the way it seeks to manage things through
in a variety of different ways, but the truth of the matter is
we are talking about such a big area here that we have to make
sure we get it right and that is why the Compliance Strategy that
Mr Wright was referring to is so important.
Bob Russell: Chairman, Mr Fabricant has covered
this area very extensively but 8.5 million checks a year are being
talked about, I believe. How many bad guys and girls do you expect
to find in that 8.5 million?