Select Committee on Home Affairs Fifth Special Report





The Home Affairs Committee has agreed to the following Special Report:—

We have received the following response from the Home Office to our Second Report, HC 227, Session 2000-01, on the Criminal Records Bureau.


1. The Government welcomes this report, and the broad endorsement that it expresses

_  for the establishment of the Criminal Records Bureau.

The Government has attached great importance to improving arrangements for safeguarding children and vulnerable adults. The establishment of the Criminal Records Bureau is a key element in the Government's wider programme to protect the vulnerable.

The Government notes in particular the Committee's agreement (paragraph 52) with the Home Secretary that dangerous people must be prevented from working with children and vulnerable adults, and that the Criminal Records Bureau has an important role in making this a reality; and

_  for key decisions and proposals by the Government in relation to the Criminal Records Bureau.

2.  The Committee's report focused on a number of topics in relation to the Criminal Records Bureau. This memorandum responds to recommendations and other points highlighted by the Committee, under each of these themes in chronological sequence.

Volunteers and the Criminal Records Bureau

We welcome the Government's decision not to charge volunteers for criminal record checks and acknowledge the strength of opinion from the voluntary sector - made clear in oral evidence to us - which helped to persuade them to do so (paragraph 11; also paragraph 49).

It is not possible to judge whether the decision to provide free checks for volunteers will lead to a substantial increase in estimated demand from the voluntary sector although we believe this to be likely. We recommend that the Criminal Records Bureau should be prepared for a possible surge in demand from the voluntary sector when drawing up its operational contingency plan (paragraph 14).

3.  The Government listened very carefully to views from within the voluntary sector itself, and expressed by others (not least, Members of both Houses of Parliament) on behalf of the sector, about the implications of the Criminal Records Bureau making charges in respect of disclosures for volunteers. These views centred on those in the most sensitive positions - principally those working most closely with children and with vulnerable adults, who would apply for higher level disclosures. The Government concluded that such higher level - standard and enhanced - disclosures should be issued free of charge to all volunteers, not just in the voluntary sector itself, but across all sectors.

4.  It is recognised that this decision will have an impact on the demand for disclosures. This factor is being taken into account in the Criminal Records Bureau's forecasting of demand, as the Committee suggested.

Other users of the Criminal Records Bureau

The Government must find a joined-up way of meeting the costs of the Criminal Records Bureau; and we hope that this will also stimulate better co-ordination of other policies affecting low wage earners (paragraph 20).

5.  The Government has re-emphasised - when announcing that standard and enhanced disclosures will be issued free of charge to volunteers, and again since - that it remains the intention that the Criminal Records Bureau should be self-financed by means of the charges that it makes for disclosures.

6.  The Government has also stressed its determination to keep the cost of disclosures as low as possible. Since the Committee's report was produced, the Government has announced that it proposes to charge £12 for each of the three levels of disclosures.[9] (The necessary regulations will be laid in due course.)

7.  In this, as in all other significant matters regarding the establishment of the Criminal Records Bureau, there has been close consultation with a number of government departments with policy interests embracing, and representing, a wide range of users of the Bureau. Soundings of stakeholders' interests have also been taken through specific consultation exercises, and through ad hoc meetings and discussions, as well as through the medium of the Bureau's Customer Forum, which has been meeting since October 1999.

8.  The Government is very conscious of the position of persons involved in childminding and childcare, to which the Committee's report made specific reference. A particular factor in relation to childminders operating from their own home is the cost of checking, through the Criminal Records Bureau, all adult members of the household. The Government has set aside money for the cost of checks for childcare workers in 2001/02, and will review the need for continuing provision in future years. People vetted by Ofsted as part of their childcare registration will not have to bear the cost of criminal record checks.

Accuracy of the raw data

It would be unacceptable if errors on the Police National Computer let even one undesirable person through the checking system. Equally, inaccurate data should not be allowed to traduce a blameless individual. The manifest levels of Police National Computer error make us doubt whether it can support a system of criminal records certificates (paragraph 32).

Delay in entering information onto the Police National Computer undermines the accuracy of the system. The police seem unable to overcome this. We recommend, as did our predecessors in 1990, that court clerks take over responsibility for entering court results directly onto the Police National Computer within 24 hours of conviction (paragraph 33).

The Home Office must ensure that improvements are made to the quality of data stored on the Police National Computer. The Criminal Records Bureau should closely monitor the number of complaints it receives that certificates are incorrect in the first year of operation (paragraph 50).

9.  The Government is determined that the service provided by the Criminal Records Bureau is as reliable as possible, in the interests both of the vulnerable whom it is intended to safeguard and of the blameless applicant. Great efforts are therefore being made in the design of identity checking arrangements in order to detect fraud and avoid misidentification.

10.  Similarly, the Government is determined that the quality of the data upon which the Criminal Records Bureau will draw should be high. The Government has made clear its concern about the quality of the data held on the Phoenix application of the Police National Computer, which will be at the heart of the Bureau's operation. The reports to which the Committee's report referred, drawing attention to problems in this regard, were themselves commissioned by the Home Office.

11.  The Government has made it clear that it in no way wishes to minimise the scale of the problem. Nevertheless, it is important to stress that Phoenix is multi-functional, serving as a repository of records of criminal convictions and as a police investigatory and operational tool containing detailed information about individuals' personal characteristics and modus operandi. Available information indicates that inaccuracies or omissions are far more likely to arise in these areas than in relation to conviction data. It is essentially on the latter that the Criminal Records Bureau will need to draw.

12.  It is also important to bear in mind that, compared with current arrangements for police checks on people employed in sensitive positions, the Criminal Records Bureau's arrangements will include two key elements:

a.    the subject of the application will receive the disclosure document, and will thus know what information is being provided and have the opportunity to challenge anything with which he/she disagrees; and

b.    there will be appeals machinery for dealing promptly with complaints or disputes.

The Criminal Records Bureau will keep a record of all complaints, as the Committee suggested.

13.  Nevertheless, the Government fully agrees with the Committee that action needs to be pursued to improve the quality of data on Phoenix. Particular emphasis is being placed on improving the timeliness of inputting data onto the system both at the initial (arrest/summons) stage of a case, and later at the court results stage. All police forces have accepted performance indicators for each of these stages (respectively, within 1 day; and within 72 hours of receiving the results from the court) which were set out in the Compliance Strategy drawn up by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and circulated to all forces in June 2000.

14.  Acting under a direction issued under section 54(3) of the Police Act 1996, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary will be carrying out a review and inspection designed to further forces' efficiency and effectiveness in this area. This will focus on improving the timeliness of data inputting. Some delays can be rectified by improved business processes, and HM Inspectorate will be communicating information on good practice through conferences and other means. HM Inspectorate will be monitoring at frequent intervals all forces' performance against the ACPO standards, and also in carrying forward a programme to tackle backlogs. HM Inspectorate will address any individual issues that may arise, and, later this summer, will produce a report measuring the progress that has been achieved by the end of August.

15.  In parallel, ACPO has commissioned a review, to be completed quickly, of rules governing the weeding of records which no longer need to be retained on Phoenix, taking into account legislative changes. The Government has made it clear that, thereafter, the development of programs to enable the new rules to be implemented automatically will be given priority.

16.  The programme described above flows from discussions involving all key interests, including the Information Commissioner.

17.  The principle that the courts should input court results onto the Police National Computer is fully accepted, and is a key element of planning, on an interdepartmental basis, for joining up strategic systems across the Criminal Justice system, under which results would be transferred automatically from court systems to Phoenix. The Government notes the Committee's continued support for the principle. Its achievement remains a priority for the Government, and continues to receive close attention. Options are under active consideration.

The operation of the Criminal Records Bureau

We welcome the decision that the Criminal Records Bureau should run a pilot scheme before becoming fully operational. This will give the Bureau the opportunity to refine its operation so that applications are processed quickly and accurately (paragraph 38).

We conclude that it is more important for the Criminal Records Bureau to get it right when it does open than for it to start operating in July 2001, its original starting date (paragraph 44).

Effort should be concentrated on ensuring that the Criminal Records Bureau will operate effectively when it starts, rather than opening earlier and performing inadequately (paragraph 51).

18.  The Government welcomes the Committee's endorsement of conclusions reached on these matters. The Government as a whole has drawn key lessons from problems experienced with earlier major IT programmes. The Criminal Records Bureau programme is not alone in having benefited as a result.

19.  But the Criminal Records Bureau remains a challenging programme. The Government is determined that the Bureau should operate to high service standards and that it should do so from the outset.

20.  IT systems will be thoroughly tested beforehand, but it will nevertheless be sensible to pilot the entire service in a controlled operational environment in order to ensure full confidence before it is opened out to its customer base as a whole. Current plans are for the pilot phase to commence in the autumn and to run for a period of about 6 weeks.


We find it unacceptable that a body established under legislation four years ago is not able to publish detailed financial estimates in the way required of other agencies (paragraph 48).

21.  While the enabling legislation was passed four years ago, it did not specifically establish the Criminal Records Bureau, which is the means by which the Government has decided to implement the legislation. Because it will be providing a new service, predicting levels of demand is more problematical. As already noted, this is a challenging programme and the Bureau will operate within the framework of a Public Private Partnership. The contract was awarded to the private sector partner in August 2000, following a rigorous tender process. Although that contract established many of the cost elements, others have had to be finalised since that time, including police costs and the Bureau's own staffing costs (reflecting specific detailed arrangements which could be settled only after the selection of the private sector partner had been resolved).

22.  At the time of giving evidence to the Committee, it had not proved possible to finalise the fees regime. In the circumstances, it was considered prudent not to quote partial, or conditional, figures which might have been misleading.

23.  But it has always been the intention that the Criminal Records Bureau should publish corporate and business plans, and annual reports. Indeed, the first such plan was produced in April 2000, and placed in the Libraries of both Houses. The Bureau will publish its new corporate and business plan shortly and again copies will be placed in the Libraries.

24.  It is anticipated that, when the issue of standard and enhanced disclosures begins later in the current financial year, demand will be at a low level initially, but will build up. Basic disclosures will not begin to be issued before the 2002/03 financial year. Cost and business projections have been based on the following levels of demand during this and the next financial year:
2001/02 2002/03
Enhanced disclosures1,216,7513,182,690
Standard disclosures109,526296,590
Basic disclosures02,786,350

25.  Estimated total revenues, and the estimated total cost of operating the Criminal Records Bureau, during the same two years are as follows:

Estimated total revenues12,655,72763,430,902
Estimated total cost48,277,78680,425,047

26.  On the best information available, the Government anticipates that, despite the low level of income initially, and subject to the necessary Parliamentary authority, progressively higher income will enable recovery of the full cost of establishing and operating this new service to be achieved within a period of five years.

1 May 2001

9   Official Report, 2 April 2001, col 69W. Back

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