MONDAY 12 FEBRUARY 2001 _________ Members present: Mr Robin Corbett, in the Chair Mr Ian Cawsey Mr Michael Fabricant Mr Gerald Howarth Mr Martin Linton Bob Russell _________ MR CHARLES CLARKE, a Member of the House, Minister of State, MR BERNARD HERDAN, Chief Executive, Criminal Records Bureau, and MR BOB WRIGHT, Head of Criminal Records Section, Action Against Crime and Disorder Unit, Home Office, examined. Chairman 107. Thank you, Mr Clarke, for making time to come and see us. We do understand the difficulties of your busy life. Thank you too for your letter explaining why the Committee had not been told at the same time as the written PQ was being answered. We were delighted, of course, with the decision which has now been taken not to charge volunteers for checks, which was one of the principal concerns not just of this Committee but of those working in the voluntary sector, above all in this United Nations Year of Volunteering. We welcome that. (Mr Clarke) Could I reinforce that apology to the Committee, Chairman? We had intended to make an announcement during the course of last week before the hearings of this Committee, to whom some credit is due for the whole process, but at the end of the day sorting out the final detail was complicated in terms of giving the answer, it happened at the last moment on that day, and it was an oversight on my part entirely, for which I can only apologise and hope you can understand in the circumstances. 108. You might just say to Ms Hetherington that I am also a Member of Parliament; she forgot to acknowledge that. (Mr Clarke) I will pass that on. Bob Russell 109. It did come as a very pleasant surprise and a shock because only three weeks previously the Prime Minister in reply to a question I put to him during Prime Minister's Question Time denounced the suggestion that this charge should be free as being something which would not happen. I am delighted that all the efforts you obviously put in behind the scenes to convince him of the error of his ways proved to be successful. (Mr Clarke) The Government's policy was set out by the Prime Minister in that exchange but, as I think he also acknowledged - I do not have Hansard in front of me - we were going through in some detail a consideration of the very large number of responses, and I certainly put on the record on a number of occasions that we had heard the various submissions by a wide range of organisations and a wide range of Members of this House and we were considering that very carefully. Bob Russell: Chairman, I hear what the Minister says, but that is not quite what the Prime Minister said in reply to my question, but I am delighted the Minister here was able to convince the Government his line was the correct one. Chairman: The fact the Minister is persuasive is no surprise to us. Bob Russell: I am delighted that is the case. Mr Howarth 110. Minister, you gave an answer to Mr Wyatt on 6th February, last week, when you said, "Consideration of the appropriate regime and structure for other users of jury services ..." ---- no, that is not the right quote but you gave a non-committal reply. (Mr Clarke) The answer we gave, I think a day later, on the 7th - I am speaking from memory - was pursuant to that answer. 111. Can I put it to you, Minister, it seems rather curious you should have given a very non-committal reply on one day, following it up the following day with this breath-taking announcement, and in your letter to the Chairman of the Committee you say, "Matters moved rapidly yesterday, once we found the way was clear to make an announcement". Can you share with us the way in which matters moved rapidly at the Home Office? (Mr Clarke) As the Committee will be aware, matters always move rapidly at the Home Office, that is the way we like to work, but the fact is in this situation we were very conscious of the fact this Committee was meeting and was taking evidence last week from the voluntary organisations, and this week from myself and my colleagues. By the way, I have omitted to introduce them, Chairman, and I would like to do that. Chairman 112. I should have asked you to do that. (Mr Clarke) Bernard Herdan is the Chief Executive of the Criminal Records Bureau, and I would like publicly to pay tribute to the work he has done in bringing the project to this particular point; he has been very committed to it and very successful with it. Bob Wright is the Head of the Criminal Records Section of the Home Office and is an official of the Home Official. What happened was, we were aware we would be giving evidence this week, and I think you are also taking evidence this week from the Data Protection Commissioner, and we thought it was important we should give you - we had been working on it for some time - the most up-to-date information we could about this important matter about which we had very substantial representations. So we had been clear for sometime we wanted to make a final announcement of the Government position before this Committee met, ie last week. The reason why we had the rapid events to which Mr Howarth refers is that we thought on reflection at the beginning of last week that if we could make it clear to the National Council of Voluntary Organisations, which was having its AGM last week and had make many representations, as the Committee will be aware, that would be a better way or proceeding than doing it towards the end of the week. So we had substantial discussions within the Home Office and also between the Home Office and other government departments, particularly the Treasury, to see if we could secure the agreements necessary to make the announcement we did, and that is how the process --- Mr Howarth 113. What I quoted to you earlier was not the answer you gave on 5th February, I apologise, but you gave a very non-committal answer on 5th February, only the day before, and I am curious as to why your officials decided to answer that question the day before given they were working, as you say, very rapidly, knowing that the NCVO conference was going to take place on the Wednesday. (Mr Clarke) The point of non-trivial correction is that I made that decision, not my officials. The reason I say it is non-trivial is that certainly all the answers I give are ones I personally approve at least, and sometimes amend and put down. The reason I decided to do that was it seemed to me to give anything other than a non-committal answer, when one was not in a position to make a full statement, was mistaken; hence the non-committal answer. The alternative is to delay answering the question entirely, which I prefer not to do in general - there are occasions when it happens but I prefer as a matter of practice normally to try and give an answer even if non- committal rather than not give one. The reason why the first answer referred to making a statement, as indeed it did, was an indication of the fact we were hoping shortly to be able to make a statement, which is what I said. 114. All frightfully plausible, Minister, and of course it had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that the Department got wind of the fact Mr Hague was going to make an announcement at the NCVO conference to say the next Conservative Government would not charge fees. That, of course, did not enter your consideration at all? (Mr Clarke) I think you sum up the position quite accurately, as a matter of fact. What we had got wind of was two Government Ministers at least were participating in the event - my Rt Hon friend, the Secretary of State for Education and my Rt Hon friend, the Minister of State dealing with volunteering, Paul Boateng, as indeed was the Leader of the Opposition, I subsequently discovered - and we felt it was important, as I said, that at the NCVO event we were able to set out the position clearly. I did not know quite frankly whether we would be in a position to make the position as clear as we could before the NCVO event, but I was keen that we should if we could. 115. Did you know at that point William Hague had intended to make this announcement? (Mr Clarke) I personally discovered the Leader of the Opposition was going to be at the NCVO event at the beginning of that week; last week. I saw press speculation - I cannot remember whether there was press speculation but certainly speculation - he would make an announcement around this particular aspect before we finally made the announcement at the end of the Tuesday. As I say, the principal concern was we always were going to say whatever we were going to say, if I can put it like that, before the meeting of this Committee because it was important to do that. We decided to try and see if we could get to a final decision before the NCVO event because a large number of organisations there were the ones who were motivating the whole process. Obviously you can suggest it was because Mr Hague was making a speech that we did that, and I understand you are making that suggestion, but I can tell you as a matter of fact it was not the single fact of Mr Hague attending and speaking in whatever way he was going to, it was the fact that the NCVO event was taking place which led us to work hard to try and make the situation clear by that point. But in any event, we would have made the position clear by the end of last week in order to be able to inform the meeting of this Committee. Mr Cawsey: He does change his policy quite a lot, so you would have had to do a lot of work if you were going to change your policy in line with his. Chairman 116. I am not anxious to start this sort of exchange. (Mr Clarke) I know, Mr Corbett, you are a non-political Committee. Mr Howarth 117. This is not an attempt to score a political point, but it is a legitimate point, I hope, Minister, that William Hague had a prepared speech in which it was stated that the next Conservative Government will abandon these charges in respect of voluntary organisations, you then give a wholly written answer which is entirely non-committal, all of a sudden you rush out this statement, you fail to tell this Committee, you then have to send us a letter of apology which is not signed by you but by your official, and I do put it to you, Minister, that even though there were ministers going to be present and you wanted to try and make an announcement, I suspect this was all rushed out the night before simply to spike the guns of the Leader of the Opposition. (Mr Clarke) Firstly, I apologise if the lack of personal signature was offensive. In fact it was not possible for me personally sign it at that event, but it was specifically not only authorised by me but briefed by me, agreed with by me in every respect, and I am sorry if it gave offence, and I do not think that the fact that I did not sign it personally in those circumstances should have given offence. I have never seen, and to this day have not seen, any draft speech released from the Leader of the Opposition on this matter. As I said, I heard speculation about what might be in it but I have never seen any test or any proposal. You are entitled to your cynicism about it and I cannot contest that at the end of the day, except to say that I think even a Conservative Government might have thought it was at least as important to inform the voluntary organisations of these things as it was to try and score a party political point in a particular context. Mr Howarth: That is why Mr Hague, of course, made it. Anyway, the fact is both political parties are agreed now that this is the right way to proceed. Chairman: It is better than that because the Liberal Democrats are agreed as well, are they not? Can you speak for them? Bob Russell: I can indeed. I can assure this gathering that this was going to appear in the Liberal Democrat party manifesto. Presumably it need not now because the Government, not for the first time, has seen Liberal Democrat policies are the right way forward. Chairman 118. So we are all unanimous on this. May I now ask you, Minister, you repeated the point in that written answer that it remains the Government's intention that the Bureau should be financed by means of the charges it makes. Does that mean that those who are employed, paid, to work with children and vulnerable adults will face higher charges to subsidise those who are being offered free charges in the voluntary sector? (Mr Clarke) It does mean they will face higher charges in the sense it is free for volunteers and not free for employees. The question of subsidy or not is still a matter which is finally being resolved, about the extent to which there is direct funding for the overall funding of the proposition, and the extent to which fees might otherwise be slightly higher than they would otherwise have been. I think it would be frank to say to you that I would anticipate there will be a slightly increased fee for employees, for example, than there would otherwise have been as a result of the change we have made, but only a slight increase. 119. Minister, you and I have been around long enough to know that when you draw a line there is always somebody you did not mean to be on the wrong side of it who ends up there. The National Childminding Association told us last week that the average net income of child minders was œ106, more realistically was about œ160, but in homes with adults over the age of 16 they would all have to have checks on their criminal records for them to become registered. So with one hand the Government is, where we are now, saying, "You have all got to pay whatever it is to have this check done", but with the other hand, quite properly, it is giving start-up grants for childminders to get into the business because of the growing need for them. Is this something that you are willing to take another look at? (Mr Clarke) No. The entire motivation for the policy decision that we announced last week was because of the Government's very strong commitment to encouraging volunteering. We believe that volunteering, for reasons which I will not bore the Committee with, ought to be an important stream of public policy and that was the thrust of many of the representations made to us, both by Members of Parliament and by other organisations. We acknowledged that once you go over the line, you are into the more difficult area of the poverty or otherwise of people in meeting particular needs, but the Government remains of the view that even in the context of the relatively low paid people you are describing, the kind of order of fee we are talking about is not prohibitive, and if at the end of the day individuals decide to go into business, because that is what it is, as a childminder and to charge for their services, one of the things they ought to be prepared to pay for is the not very significant charge involved in ensuring they can demonstrate they have no related or important convictions. So we are not thinking of changing that position. 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, Minister! (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 Agency? (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. Mr Howarth 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 œ12 and an inspection fee of œ10. 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 moment. (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 week - and 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 childminders - instead of being œ10 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 slug 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. Mr Linton 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 some - but I emphasise relatively marginal - contribution 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. Mr Linton 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 Wales - a total of 20 - and so far we believe about 3,000 people have attended 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 Police 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 Registrar, ACPO and the Inspector 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 have said? (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 force - the Assistant Chief Constables - to 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 them? (Mr Wright) The legislation includes a range of offences for unauthorised disclosure. For example, the member officer or employee of a body registered 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 offence. 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 form 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 of 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. We 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 5 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 lucky 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. Chairman 140. Can you just explain to us how you are going to monitor the compliance of registered bodies with the guidance they are given in handling this information, including the soft information in certain circumstances? (Mr Herdan) There will need to be regular inspections to make sure that that information that should be held secure is held secure. There will be a small team of staff who will do regular checks. 141. Can we go back to the file on forward transmission on 5th December. We were told there of a case, the details do not matter, in a sense, "Court information could have been checked by the police in a matter of minutes but it took six months to do it". In this booklet which you have sent out to employers and to also to voluntary organisations you have made it clear in there that you propose making a charge for correcting the mistakes in the information which you provide in the first place. Is that still the position? (Mr Herdan) No, that is not our position. We recognise that if there are appeals or disputes about the information we have issued we have to deal with it quickly, there has never been a question of charging for it, that is certainly not the intention. 142. In terms of the speed at which that can be done, are you confident that can be done in hours rather than weeks? (Mr Herdan) We have a service standard of achieving any resolution of disputes within five days, or a week effectively. 143. Five working days? (Mr Herdan) Except there will be a small number of cases where it takes longer if we have to go back to the court records. There will be some that take will longer. The vast majority we can solve by re-checking the Police National Computer and local police records, we are setting that at five days. 144. While we are in the neighbourhood, could you explain how you are going to satisfy yourself that the individual seeking the information is who he or she says he or she is. Are you going to ask for a National Insurance number or a driving licence number. Commendably in the booklet you say you want to do as much as this business by e-mail if you can. (Mr Herdan) For the higher level disclosures the first stage of identification will be done by the registered body of the employer, we would expect them to know who they are about to offer a job to. They have probably checked somebody's identity by asking for their passport or driving licence to check who they are on the first level. We then check on a variety of databases to make sure that in terms of width and department the identity as presented matches what we can find out about them through the various databases we have access to. There is obviously some balance there that has to be struck with Data Protection Legislation about what we can and cannot do. All of this will be gone on the basis of informed consent. There will be a statement already signed saying they agree to us checking the kind of databases we mentioned. We will also be making use of commercial sector databases. 145. If I have been working outside of the United Kingdom for any lengthy period and then come back and either seek a job working with children or vulnerable adults as a volunteer you cannot get at that at the moment, or can you? (Mr Herdan) That is a gap that we have identified, really, in a way that the legislation was framed and the way the CRB has initially been established. We do not have the right and means to check that information overseas. We would flag up to an employer that there are gaps in someone's record if that was the case. 146. Theoretically this ought to be possible to do through Europol or Interpol. (Mr Herdan) We are establishing contacts with the other authorities in other countries. We are going to look at what we can do. We can certainly provide help to an employer in terms of telling them the point to which they can write to get the information. Other countries will issue certificates of good conduct, that kind of thing is available but they would have to do it by contact with the relevant international authorities. (Mr Clarke) Both the communication data between the institutions in the United Kingdom law enforcement system, the police, the prisons, probation, magistrates courts, crown court, the Crown Prosecution Service is nothing like as fluid as it needs to be. There is massive investment now going on to try and get data shifted across the system much quicker and more effectively. They are currently completely separate systems. That is the true a fortiori in relation to other countries as well. We are very committed to working with our own internal communications in the United Kingdom and also with other countries much more effectively. It would be false to give the impression that we are there, because we are not, we are a long way away from there. 147. The point, I am sure you got it, if you go down the sharp end of this we are talking about paedophiles, to take one startling example of this, they do business worldwide wide, as it were. There are mechanisms in place now in another part of Government trying to deal with this. (Mr Clarke) We have a case in the courts today which illustrates the effectiveness of Government working internationally to be able to deal with this. We are giving that increased priority for the reasons you are implying. I also ought to place on record here for completeness that we are tabling amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill before this House to clarify the CRB's power to go into these matters in very great detail, indeed. I would not volunteer that to you, but it is precisely in response to point you have just made, we have to be absolutely certain that we can do whatever we can to address any paedophile, individual or organisation who try and come in under cover to get that kind of assurance. Mr Herdan has been determined throughout to ensure that the credibility of the test is absolutely at the maximum level. We as a government want to support his determination in that for the exact reason you imply. Mr Fabricant 148. I just want to follow on from Martin Linton's question, we were made very aware of the importance of soft evidence, if you like, when we heard evidence from the scouts last week. They were talking about Dunblane and saying while there was no criminal record as far as Hamilton was concerned in Dunblane he had made several applications for the scouts but soft information from the police made it very clear that he would be the wrong sort of person, for all sorts of different reasons, to employ. I certainly recognise the importance of that. Like Mr Linton I have the same concerns that soft information given in the wrong way may be used inappropriately against someone. What I want to ask you, and to some degree you answered that point, you said there would be a right of appeal, does that mean that the person against whom soft information is given will have sight of that soft information? (Mr Herdan) Yes. The legislation prescribes certain situations where the police can provide a separate bit of information to a registered body, for example if somebody is under surveillance. That is clearly something that an individual should not be told. In very unusual cases the Chief Police officer can take a decision to reveal certain information only to the registered body and not to the individual. Most of the soft information might be, for example, if someone was accused of an offence and acquitted on a technicality, as your colleague mentioned, that kind information will be printed on the disclosure, they will know that. That will be transparent. 149. Are you not concerned about litigation? Supposing it was reported that an individual was hanging around a playground. It is a sad state of the world that people can hang around playgrounds innocently, actually, those who like kids in the nicest possible way, and that information was given with the implication that that person is a paedophile could that person then not sue the CRB, the Home Office or whoever and say, "Look, you are accusing me of being a paedophile while I am quite innocently doing whatever I want to do in my spare time, which is perfectly lawful, perfectly legal with no ill intent". (Mr Herdan) The police, will, as I mentioned earlier, make a judgment as to what is released. It is the judgment of the police as to what will be released. I imagine they would take a lot of care in such cases that what they say is substantiated and defensible were the individual to take it on. Conversely, I think it is very fair to the individual they know why, for example, their employment is refused and what the reasons are. It is this balance again. The intention is this would be released with proper justification. (Mr Clarke) Can I ask Mr Wright to add a point here. (Mr Wright) In discussions with the police it is quite clear that they would agonise over a decision in a case like this. That information would only be disclosed if they had strong grounds for believing that it was relevant and should be taken into account in the circumstances of the job or the position or the voluntary post in question. 150. I appreciate how awfully difficult this is and God forbid somebody slipped through the net, but on the other hand I am rather concerned that people might be accused of something of which they are entirely innocent. I also wonder if there is fear of litigation and now we have set up a formalised structure, which I think on the whole we all welcome, whether or not the police might be more cautious then they have already been about releasing information because they might fear litigation. (Mr Clarke) I understand the question, which is a perfectly fair question. From my dialogue with the police about this, as with everyone else in the partnerships, it is to be absolutely sure they are doing the maximum possible to prevent people who might want to exploit children and vulnerable adults from doing so. I think that would be their first consideration. I do not think the litigation point, valid though it is, would significantly upset their determination to ensure that they were protecting vulnerable people in their care or for whom they bear responsibility. 151. I am glad to hear you say that. I am not convinced. I feel that some police forces might well take the view that they cannot afford litigation if it were to come about, and in a case when things are on the margin, if you like, they might hold back where previously they might not have held back because they know that under the previous structure there is no way that the person being accused, if you like, would have had sight of this information being given to the voluntary services. I think it is a worry, but I know there is no clear answer to that now. There is also slight concern of the example being given of the guy who was a homosexual. Someone who might be a homosexual is very different from somebody who is a paedophile. There is one hell of a difference, the two certainly do not go together. Chairman: Mr Fabricant, would you mind, just on this point. Mr Linton 152. I just wanted to be sure that these disclosures to the applicant will be protected from the laws of defamation or is it possible they will be published? (Mr Clarke) I do not think we know the answer to that question. Chairman 153. Perhaps you would write to us. (Mr Clarke) Can I be clear of the question, "Is action of this kind subject to the law of defamation?" Was that the basic question. Sorry we cannot answer that right now. Mr Howarth 154. Can I on this very important put to you the difficulty that the police might face, as was exemplified in the Panorama programme last night, about the Dream World Paedophile Group, where they knew that one of people was working with sea scouts and were able to monitor that person. If, for example, that person applied to work with young children in the sea scouts they might have been faced with the difficulty there of not telling the sea scouts what they knew about the individual because of a fear of disturbing the comprehensive, coordinated that is going on by 15 countries. (Mr Clarke) I think that is covered by the particular point Mr Herdan made earlier. There are very difficult matters of policing judgment here. What I would say is that the experience of police in dealing with these matters, individually for their own forces and in co-operation with others, is regrettably, in a sense increasing. The effectiveness of the police in working with others organisations is better. (Mr Herdan) Without knowing the details of that particular case because I did not see the programme. In a case where the police would be concerned about telling individuals they are under surveillance, for example, that is the sort of situation which the legislation allows for, where they can write a separate letter to the registered body about that particular individual, which will not appear on the disclosure, so the individual will not know. It will be rare but occasionally that will occur. That, of course, would encourage the police to tell us things they know. Mr Fabricant 155. I want to move on now to questions of the operation, if you like, of the system, the nuts and bolts. Mr Herdan, you frightened me by saying you are still associated with the Passport Agency. The Passport Agency, the Department of Social Security, even the Home Office all had problems with computers - I do not make a political point about that, I am well aware of the problem of setting up large databases - what sort of estimate have you given so far of the likely demand? Various figures have been given, eight million applicants per annum was the original thought. Then it was revised, then it might be nine, 12 million, then in April 2000 it was thought to be closer to five million. What is the current guesstimate about the annual number of enquiries you have to deal with? (Mr Clarke) Before asking Mr Herdan to deal with the direct point, can I just make a general observation, which I think is important to do in the light of the introduction that was made, shortly after I became the Home Office minister with the responsibility for this, July a year ago, the department had to take a decision about how to proceed with the establishment of the CRB . There was a decision taken by the Home Secretary and fully supported by everybody concerned. The right way to proceed was to do it in relation to the Passport Agency in the way you are familiar with, and has been set out. The reason for that was an absolute confidence, which I have to say has been entirely vindicated from my experience subsequently. The Passport Agency structure, and Mr Herdan particularly - as a result of their ability to improve the situation in the Passport Agency from where it was, which has been a very substantial record of improvement, apart from any other consideration - were better placed to deal with this very substantial project. I think that that decision has been entirely vindicated by the process we are in. It was not a straightforward choice, because of the presentational points Mr Fabricant makes, the points were presentational rather than substantial. I want to emphasise that point as part of the introductory remarks. I should also say, Mr Corbett, that the whole question of government IT projects, large government projects IT projects, whether Home Office ones or Social Security, or whatever, have been subject to the most extraordinary review process by the Cabinet Office IT Unit because everyone in government - this is not a party political point - is acutely aware of the dangers of this going wrong. With the experience of things having gone wrong it is determined to sort out matters for the future. If I can be so bold, perhaps the whole question of Home Office IT projects might be an interesting matter for this Committee to look at to get a wider public understanding. 156. If we are going to avoid the problems the Passport Agency know how many people are going to make enquiries. We do not want to get into a situation whereby using your excellent ability Mr Herdan we get out of a problem, we do not want to have a problem in the first place. What is your estimate, which was my question, as to the likely annual demand over the next couple of years? (Mr Herdan) This is not, perhaps, terribly reassuring. The estimate of demand for the CRB is an extremely difficult greenfield operation. What we have to go on as a starting point is the level of demand that the police currently satisfy with those that have access to criminal record checks, which is around one million a year, of what would be in our terminology high level disclosure. Then we have done quite a lot of demand modelling and there has been market research over several years, going back to the White Paper in 1996, about this. I cannot really sit here and say we know what the demand is going to be. Frankly we do not. The estimate that we have, if we look at steady states, which we characterise as year four, when all of the disclosures were available and demand was built up to what we expect it was about eight and a half million disclosures a year, of which 2.5 million would be the high level disclosures, which are really close to the government's policy objectives, and the others are the basis disclosures for general employment. We have also done a lot of work around potential variations. We have a dimension system to cope with quite a wide variation certainly, plus or minus 30 per cent or 40 per cent on those numbers. It will be very challenging. We also do not know about the seasonality of that demand, which is obviously what the Passport Agency issues, how you cope with seasonal demand. We do not yet know what the seasonality will be. 157. I fully accept you cannot make accurate predictions. I spent four years doing a DPhil in economic forecasting and I am well aware that any form of prediction is not likely to be very accurate at all. I perfectly accept that. Do you feel now in a position to say that if your 8.5 million that you predicted is actually down by that 40 per cent, it is 40 per cent more, it goes the other way, and that you have high seasonal demands that your computer system will be able to cope with it? (Mr Herdan) It is dimensional with that in mind. We will also, before we ever reach that kind of level, which is three or four years out from now, we will be learning and re-forecasting, we are re-forecasting on a quarterly basis at the moment. The Minister mentioned the registered body of seminars, which are currently being run to build the registered body network, and all of those registered bodies are being asked to give us updated information on what they think the demand will be. We are also going to start with a pilot operation. Before we go on to full scale operation with all comers we are starting with the current organisations that are currently checked so there is some build up of our experience before we hit the maximum volumes we can see. We will be quite dynamic. We are dimensioning for those kind of scales of operation, which are very large actually. 158. That is very reassuring because you appreciate that you cannot be learning at the organisation's expense -- (Mr Herdan) No. 159. -- because of all of the reasons you pointed out earlier on. One of the reasons why you have to be able to estimate demands, of course, is not only to be able to configure a computer system that can handle it but also in order to determine what sort of charges you can make. I am right in saying, am I not, that the Criminal Records Bureau has to be self-funding. With the good news from the Government, that voluntary organisations are not going to have to now make a contribution, can you give me an estimate, firstly, out of the 8.5 million, how many million - you have already given us an estimate of the number of enhanced enquiries - what percentage of that will be people who will have to pay a fee? What is that fee likely to be? (Mr Herdan) I cannot answer the second part of the question, of course. I am sure you appreciate that. The voluntary sector, my colleagues will correct me if I am wrong, is about 30 per cent of the high level disclosure demands, around 800,000 out of that 8.5 million would be voluntary sector disclosures. We will obviously be setting up our system to cope with that. There is also some interesting interaction, as you might appreciate, between the level set for the fees and the level of demand. Clearly the decision just taken to make disclosures free of charge for volunteers is likely to increase the demand for the voluntary sector. People will make decisions to check them frequently, things of that nature. You get interesting interactions. 160. I am sure you are absolutely right and I am glad you recognise that demand is likely to increase because of the no fee basis. I would be rather worried if were I running a business which required these investigations to be made if I had no idea whatsoever what the fee would be. I would be even more worried to read the report of this meeting to find out that the Chief Executive does not have any idea what the fee would be. Can you not give us a ball-park figure? (Mr Clarke) There is no question of the CRB being up and running without people knowing what the fees are. The point is, we consider, and I think it would be good practice, that it would be ridiculous for us to speculate what the fees are before announcing. We think it would be better to announce the situation rather than to put ball-park figures into the air. We will make those announcements when we have fully concluded all of our modelling on the various issues and when we come to firm decisions on it. As Mr Herdan has just indicated, an important factor in that regard, is the decision that has been taken on the decision on the question of volunteers which we have to take into account. Which is one of the reasons why we are not in a position to say to you today, this is what the fees will be. We are not going to be in the position that the organisation starting operations were without the fees being publicly known. As I understand it that is the process that we are talking about. We are talking about annual reviews once the system is up and running in the way that is conventional for very many organisations. I was going to say at a later point, Mr Corbett, perhaps I can so now, when I said to Mr Howarth that the exchequer would pick up the tab for what was going on here I was perhaps guilty of shorthand, which I should not have been guilty of, the actual process is that in the end the whole of the CRB funding is self-financing. Because of the pattern of it, before it gets to a break even point the question of the pay-back period is the key point. The way in which that extra exchequer revenue is coming to the system is by extending the period of the whole scheme for pay-back, for the arithmetic of what money comes in. That is the way that that is being done. It is not simply a hand-over from the exchequer, it is the way in which the cycle of the money is dealt with. I think that that is the way in which it operates. The fee levels within that will be annually reviewed. The question of starting the operation, as Mr Fabricant was fearing might be the case, as the Chief Executive of the business without knowing what the fees would be is not imaginable in that position. Mr Howarth 161. Are you suggesting that the Bureau will run at a deficit for the first few years? (Mr Clarke) That is the case for a large number of new organisations. You start out running at a deficit and then you start to make a surplus in later years and there comes a break even point. The question that I was not clear about in what I said, and I was slightly worried I have been misleading was that there--- Chairman 162. It did sound unusually generous of the Treasury. (Mr Clarke) It is unusually generous of the Treasury for the reason that there is a standard time frame they work on for pay-back on these new schemes. They have agreed to extend, unusually and generously, the period for pay-back, which effectively adds up to more exchequer payment at the beginning of the scheme in order to meet the particular needs of the government's target on volunteering. Mr Fabricant 163. I appreciate what you are saying, that you are not in a position to give this information now. The government is embarking on this policy, I think we all welcome it. As the Minister quite rightly said it follows on from a White Paper produced in 1996, so we all support it, but I have to say that the Government is embarking on the policy now, businesses, therefore, know there will be a charge and I think it is worrying that the Government has got no idea at this stage what that charge might be. What I am going to ask the Minister to do or, indeed, Mr Herdan is to come up with a guess off the top of their respective heads. I wonder if the Minister or Mr Herdan can think about it before the inquiry is finished and, give us some sort the ball-park figure. You must have something in mind when you bring forward legislation. I cannot believe that the Home Office or any government department would bring forward legislation which has to be self- financing and where there is no figure in mind at all. I do accept that the information may not be available now but I do ask the Minister to write to us with some figures when the time is appropriate. (Mr Clarke) I am certainly prepared to give the commitment that Mr Fabricant has asked for to write at an appropriate time with the information, that is fine. I am not prepared to go so far as he said in the first part of his question, to do so during the course of the inquiry of this Committee. Not because there is anything to hide about this, there is not, but because I think good business practice in introducing any new regime, which is what we are doing, a very major prospect, is to publish only data which is accurate because I think the scope for confusion here with publishing ball park figures, speculative figures, or whatever, would be very bad business practice. The commitments I can give are, firstly, to write to this Committee immediately we come out with a decision on this matter and, secondly, that we will be publishing the figures, of course, before the CRB is in operation for people to apply to in the way that we have set out. The commitment I cannot give is to say that letter will come during the period of consideration of this report by the Committee. Mr Howarth 164. Minister, I am sorry but I cannot reconcile your difficulty in providing us with figures now with your written answer last week and your letter to us saying that the way was now clear to make an announcement. Perhaps I can put this to you: did the Treasury accept this concession to the voluntary sector? Did it accept the new arrangements for the deficit funding of the Bureau? You must have had some figures. If you had come to us and said "we still have not worked out how we can alleviate the burden on the voluntary sector", fine, but you have not, you have told us that you are going to alleviate that. You cannot arrive at that decision given what you have told us about the extensive work going on in your Department unless some calculations have been made as to how you are going to fund this big hole by the voluntary sector being exempted. (Mr Clarke) The answer to the first question is, yes, the Treasury is fully committed to the announcement we made. Secondly, I said at the beginning in answer to Mr Howarth, I may be wrong, that there are two questions which we have in consideration in setting the fee levels. Firstly is the work that is being done on the modelling now by CRB on what precise fee levels ought to be set, and that work is ongoing and moving forward all the time as the estimates are updated and the practicalities of the operation of the scheme are further refined. Secondly, there is the impact of the decision announced last week on the charging to volunteers. Specifically they are two factors which are informing the situation of what is the fee when it finally emerges. We are considering those things very carefully. We are prepared to make the announcement on volunteering for the reason that I indicated earlier, because of the priority the Government gives to encouraging volunteering. That changes, as Mr Fabricant acknowledged, the arithmetic of the various other aspects which come through when looking at the overall funding of the project. What I am not prepared to do is to give ball park figures. I think it is important that we give accurate figures as to what will actually be charged. I think the confusion between ball park figures and accurate figures is one which is dangerous and I think it would be irresponsible of Government to go down that line. 165. We are only a couple of months away from this thing going live and this organisation accepting requests from the public for this information. You are going to have to produce the figures PDQ, are you not? (Mr Clarke) The current schedule for going live is late summer, that is what we have talked about. Perhaps I should have said this earlier on in response to one of Mr Herdan's points, that it is much more important to get it right in all respects than it is to do it immediately. Given all the experience that Mr Fabricant was referring to earlier, it would be a total mistake if we were to go down the course of getting that before we were completely ready, so it is conceivable that may slip into early autumn or whenever. I can certainly give the assurance, as I have just given, in terms that we will publish the fees well before we get to the point of going live in that way and we will communicate that to the Committee when we do. 166. Last week some of the voluntary organisations told us that some Government departments are no longer providing them with information, so they are now in a state of limbo, they cannot go to the Government departments and get the information. Are you now suggesting that this whole programme might slip to the autumn so they cannot go to Mr Herdan's Bureau, so we are faced with a widening black hole, if you like, where the voluntary organisations, which we all accept have an obligation, which they accept too, to secure the maximum protection for young protection, are going to have nowhere to go to get the information that we all think they need to have? (Mr Clarke) We are faced with two imperatives. The first is the imperative that Mr Howarth quite correctly identifies, which is to get this up and running in its complete form as fast as possible, no question about that. I not only accede to but agree with the point that Mr Howarth is making about the imperative need to do that. Secondly, the imperative need to ensure that we do it accurately, well, effectively and do not make mistakes in setting it up which will effectively discredit the operation of the whole system. Those are the two competing pressures that we have and under which the CRB is working. What I said was my instruction - that may not be the right word - the guidance I have given to Mr Herdan is that it is very, very, very important in my view that when we do it we do it accurately, because if there were mistakes made because we had not done enough preparation to get it right then that would be more damaging than the damage of delay. The Committee may disagree with that. 167. I am sure we all accept that, and given the history of these various IT projects introduced by the Government we accept that, and we certainly would not criticise you for wanting to make sure that the system is reasonably reliable once it gets up and running. But there is a real problem for voluntary agencies, and perhaps I can put it to you that the Government should reconsider the present arrangements whereby it is preventing the voluntary organisations from having access to the previously existing system of checks with Government departments pending the satisfaction of Ministers with the operation of the Criminal Records Bureau? (Mr Clarke) I will come on to that in a second. Can I just ask Mr Wright to add to what I said earlier, which may cover some of what you have asked. (Mr Wright) If I can just pick up the point you mentioned about access to Government information or information from Government departments. I think there may have been a misunderstanding the other day. The situation was that the Department of Health maintained a list of people who were considered unsuitable to work with children and the DfEE maintained a list of people who were considered unsuitable for working in the education system. 168. List 99? (Mr Wright) List 99. The arrangements under which they function were changed last October with the implementation of part of the Protection of Children Act. The change, so far as voluntary organisations were concerned, was that whereas voluntary organisations by and large had not had access to that information before, they now have access to that information. I think the point that was being made was that there would be a charge for this information in the future, not that the information would not be available. The charge, of course, would only occur when the Criminal Records Bureau came on stream because access to those lists will be through the Criminal Records Bureau under a one-stop shop arrangement. That will not now apply to voluntary organisations, volunteers, because they will have access to those as well as to the CRB free of charge. 169. So what you can tell us today is that as far as voluntary organisations are concerned, pending the establishment of the Criminal Records Bureau, they will continue to have free access to the checking arrangements? (Mr Wright) They have greater access than before. Originally primarily the lists were for the statutory sector, now they have been opened to the voluntary sector as well. 170. So they are not going to be charged and they will have access? (Mr Wright) They will not be charged. 171. There is not a black hole? (Mr Wright) No. Bob Russell 172. Are they being charged as of today? (Mr Wright) No. 173. So it is free now? (Mr Wright) It is free now. Chairman 174. Minister, you wanted to say something I think? (Mr Clarke) No, I think Mr Wright has settled the point. 175. Let me see if I can persuade you to say something. Can you give us an idea of what the cost to the Treasury was of the amendments which you made last week, the decision to expand this run-in period before it breaks even? (Mr Clarke) As I have said before, I am not in a position to do that. I can say, as I said to Mr Howarth earlier on, that the Treasury is entirely committed to the arrangements that we have made. 176. They do not often sign blank cheques, do they, the Treasury? (Mr Clarke) The Treasury is very poor at signing blank cheques, for reasons that I have not yet been able to fathom during my membership of this House. What they have been prepared to do, and I do think it was a significant point, as I say, is to extend the pay back period of what is involved. 177. Could you say from what to what? (Mr Clarke) Again, I am not in a position to give the detail on that today. I can see from your expression you do not think that is a satisfactory response. I will consider whether I can write to you with that. 178. Thank you, Minister. (Mr Clarke) The reason why I am hesitant is this, Chairman: there is a whole series of assumptions and models which are being operated in this area and I am really very loath indeed to give information in the public arena which could lead to confusion about what the fee regime will finally be. I think it would be much better for us to publish all the detail in that circumstance, and that is what I wish to do. I take Mr Howarth's point in pressing the point as he has, the sooner we are able to do that the better, and I accept that without any qualification, but up until that point every bit of information simply leads to a further discussion around these points. 179. So if I ask you what the budget of the Bureau is likely to be in 2004-05 I will get a similar answer? (Mr Clarke) I think you will. I do not know if we can help more than that, Mr Herdan? (Mr Herdan) Probably not. This is all part of the jigsaw. Mr Howarth 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 œ48 million to œ200 million. Nobody seems to have a handle on this business. Chairman 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. Mr Howarth 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 Committee. Mr Fabricant 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. Mr Howarth 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. Chairman 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. Mr Fabricant 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 give much to 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 ACPO - the Association of Chief Police Officers - has 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 Peter will be engaged on the development of the strategy to provide appropriate IT support. 188. Have you set any time target for it to be completed? (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 Fabricant? (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. Chairman 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 percentages - I do not wish to diminish the significance of the problem - which 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 that. 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 substantial. (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 National Computer. (Mr Clarke) As I said earlier, Chairman, you have got six agencies here - police, prisons, probation, crown courts, magistrates' courts, CPS - all 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 NCPS(?) 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. Mr Fabricant 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 the street. Chairman 198. Sure. (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? Chairman 200. You hope to find them all presumably. (Mr Clarke) I was just going to say, we hope that everybody will be included. Bob Russell: The reason I say that, Minister, is when the Chief Executive of The Scout Association gave evidence last week, he was talking about 70,000 volunteers a year who are currently checked out by the Scout's own inhouse system and the numbers that caused them concern were relatively few. Mr Fabricant: Ten. Bob Russell 201. A dozen or a couple of dozen, something like that. What concerns me, Minister, and I wonder if you can give me an assurance here, is that a degree of complacency may well come in because there will be haystacks galore and only a few needles and it may well be that those operating the system may just pass everything through without being as diligent as they might be if there is only the occasional needle. (Mr Clarke) I will ask Mr Herdan if he has got anything to add but it seems to me that is very unlikely because the whole process of the system will be a system of routines and checks which are absolutely standard for every case with a series of indicators being thrown up which will, of themselves, generate further scrutiny and address. I myself hope that the existence of the scheme will minimise the ability of people on the margin who might have some nefarious purpose to get involved in the whole process, so you will find, as it were, the number of needles in your haystack becoming smaller because people's perceptions will be that it will be a system they will not be able to get through and that would obviously be the desirable state of affairs. But the only way in which that can be established is by the very systematic routine checks that are gone through. Of course, a lot of it will be mechanised by hypothesis. It will be not be a question of the weariness of a particular individual weakening the scrutiny element but a system which is rigorous. (Mr Wright) I certainly agree with the Minister that the deterrent effect of the CRB may be to make those needles even less frequent, but clearly the whole culture of the organisation is to be based around the concept of no stone being left unturned - mixing my metaphors - to make sure that every case where we would find a positive hit is uncovered and revealed. That will be part of the way in which we have got to induct and train all the human beings who will also be part of the system; it is not all just about computers. It has been suggested that the number of cases where there is no information on the Police National Computer but then there is softer information would be quite small. I think that may well be the case but some of those are going to be the most vital cases and obviously there we need a culture of the police forces and ourselves to make sure that that small number of cases is picked up. I can assure you that the scenario you are describing where we might go to sleep on it and lose interest in the cases where there is something to be found is not at all the way I see it. Chairman: There is the dreadful warning of Thomas Hamilton and Dunblane where nothing was known in terms of convictions but many people locally knew "something was wrong". We were heartened by the evidence of the Scout Association who told us that their own internal enquiries reveal this. It is a good point. We were very impressed by the evidence we were given on behalf of all of the voluntary bodies as to the seriousness with which they carry out the present checks and the thoroughness as well, for very obvious reasons, but nonetheless it was very impressive the evidence they gave. Ian Cawsey? Mr Cawsey 202. Thank you, Chairman. I want to ask you a few questions about the timeliness of information. We have spoken a lot about accuracy but how quickly the information is available is also very important and a previous Committee report going back to 1990 - and of course it is so long ago now that some of the acronyms have changed - recommended that: "When the National Collection of Criminal Records is computerised, court clerks rather than police forces should be responsible for providing records of court results to the National Identification Bureau." The then Government agreed with that but nothing actually happened and in 1995 the Masefield Scrutiny into the criminal justice system also recommended that courts should directly update results onto the PNC. Again nothing has happened since that time. ACPO have told us that "the accuracy and timeliness of court results would be dramatically increased if the courts entered their own results." Why is that not an option that you are putting forward? (Mr Clarke) Can I say, firstly, that it might be helpful to set out what our service standards are in this area. Firstly on disclosure turn around times, the standard is enhanced disclosure, the highest level, 90 per cent in three weeks, standard disclosure, 95 per cent in one week, basic disclosure 95 per cent in one week. And on response times, written enquiries, one week, e-mails, one day, and disputes 95 per cent within three weeks. So those are the service standards which we set for this approach. In terms of the inputting of data that Mr Cawsey asked about, the purpose of the whole discussion about IT and the criminal justice system is to indicate that we are trying to get a common system of inputting data that reads across each other and we think that is the best way to proceed. 203. You do not agree with the comments in the Report that it would be better? (Mr Clarke) On the question of where the data is held I think it is best to base everything on the Police National Computer and that is the right way to operate it. Where I agree with the comment is it is important that the data that the police enter into the system and the data that the courts, whether magistrates' or crown courts enter into the system, is compatible and that the information flows right across the whole system. Maybe I misunderstood the question. 204. At the moment the police enter it on the PNC. I think the recommendation is that the courts do it directly rather than pass it onto the police and then the police having to do it. (Mr Wright) I think this is the intention, the way things are going, that the courts will put data straight onto the Police National Computer in the future. It is a question of time and on that I have no information. 205. Mo information on that? (Mr Wright) Sorry, it is not my field but, no, I have no information. 206. Is it the Home Office's general acceptance that that will be an improvement in the system if that were to happen? (Mr Wright) I am certain that is the case. (Mr Clarke) What we are trying to do is establish a central database which contains all the data that we work through and that requires entering it from all of the elements within the criminal justice system, but achieving that is a lot easier said than done. 207. I appreciate that but earlier, in answer to Mr Fabricant's question, we were told about a target of 100 per cent within 72 hours once the police received it but now you are saying the policy is not when the police receive it but just to go straight onto the system. (Mr Wright) That is a target for as long as it remains the case that the courts supply the information to the police and the police put it onto the system. Obviously the position would be different if the courts input directly. 208. Of course the courts are not the only body that provide this information, there are other bodies as well. The 72-hour target which it is now, and moving towards direct input; is that going to apply to other agencies that provide information to the system? (Mr Clarke) Mr Cawsey, I will try and summarise where I think we are and I am going to suggest, if I might, that I write to you about this matter to set it out fully. We have a situation where we have a series of parallel databases about the same people and the same crimes that are held in ways that do not communicate with each other. That is, in my opinion, a very strong indictment of the system and the way it operates, which is why we are about investing in both the interconnections between the different services and in the new system of developing data in this way. Our ambition is as Mr Wright described, to get to a position where information is entered directly from each of the elements as it reflects their part in the process which then can be sent out in a way that is the most efficient and comprehensive and has the least problem that can occur in the process. But the truth is that we are quite a long way from being in that position in a way that would be desirable, further away than I would like. That is why I may appear to be being evasive in response to your questions because I do not have good answers to the timescale to get to that point. We are talking about a five-year strategy, for example, for reinvesting in the whole of our IT throughout the criminal justice system, in a way that moves it forward properly. I am not able to be as precise as I think you would like me to be in answering the questions. 209. I was going to move on to ask you about whether you saw one of the solutions being some sort of centralised inputting but, in fact, it is the opposite of that, is it not? At whatever specific point (which you have not announced) it will go the other way, will it not? (Mr Clarke) You have essentially got six different databases for the different agencies at the moment, some of which are computerised, some of which are not, and so you have all the interfaces between those different agencies which you have to operate. There is a serious debate about the merit of going to a central database for all the agencies which everybody inputs and then goes out. The implications of going to that structure, if you can imagine the central database as the centre of a star with six agencies going into it rather than six separate satellites, are absolutely enormous in terms of culture and what happens, and we are currently debating which of those courses to follow. That is why I am not being as clear as I would like in answer to your question. Would it be helpful if I try to write a comprehensive letter in answer to Mr Cawsey? Chairman: That is very kind of you. Mr Fabricant 210. You are going to be writing a lot of letters. (Mr Clarke) Three as I recall from this Committee so far. Mr Cawsey 211. That would be helpful, Minister. There are just a couple of other points that are linked to that. One point is you have the 72-hour target for the time being at least, but of course that is only from the point that information is handed over to you to use. You heard from the Chairman earlier some extremely long delays of records making it onto the system. What are you putting in place to ensure that as well as promptly appearing on the system the information moves across promptly as well, again not just from courts but from all the various sources of input? (Mr Clarke) Precisely the kind of changes I am talking about right across the whole system. The best illustration I can give is on the youth justice reforms. We have talked about trying to speed up the youth justice system in ways that we are very strongly committed to as a Government. It is absolutely revealing as you go through the system the amount of time a particular case has been held in a particular part of the system before being transferred to the next part and it requires major changes in culture to move that forward. In the case of each of the agencies we have got a set of targets about the way in which they should deal with the process because we are always keen to do whatever Mr Fabricant suggests in terms of targets when they come through. We have not got a system where I can put my hand on my heart and say to you, "Here is a great system for making it happen". What I can say to you is that everything we are about, both in setting up the CRB and in terms of general communication between the agencies, is designed to minimise the waiting times within the system because they are very, very deleterious to the whole criminal justice system. 212. I agree with that. One of the concerns I have about the scenario you are outlining of making it a much more on-line system so information can move quickly and promptly onto this system, is that it almost reminds me of the Internet to a certain extent where there is masses of information and yet nobody is responsible for any of it and there is no accreditation of it either but everybody can get their hands on it. In the 1997 Act in a very carefully worded phrase - not by you personally of course - it says: "No proceedings shall lie against the Secretary of State by reason of an inaccuracy in the information made available or provided to him." You get a similar disclaimer at the end of Heartbeat every week. So who is going to be responsible for all of these people all putting information into this great big database, on-line eventually, and ensuring that it is going to be accurate? (Mr Clarke) Can I say as the Minister concerned I am absolutely delighted that was what the officials at the time drafted because I am sure it was the right approach. Mr Cawsey is raising very profound issues about the operation of the system. You have the operational independence of the chief constables, you have the judges and their courts, you have the Crown Prosecution Service, again independent, in the way that they operate, all rightly independent of the Executive. As we as an Executive say, "Let's start to get more of a grip on this", for the reasons Mr Cawsey has rightly identified, quite serious constitutional issues arise at each juncture both about the way we manage the data because obviously data in one part of the system cannot be made available to people in other parts of the system, but also in terms of administratively how to drive it. If I can be encouraging at all to Mr Cawsey there is very, very positive thinking going on at the moment about precisely how to manage this process through. There is a Committee across the criminal justice system chaired by the Home Secretary with the Lord Chancellor and Attorney-General which meets very regularly which is trying to address precisely these points about how we can manage efficiency through the system in a positive way. That is where the responsibility lies ultimately, that group of three government Ministers, to try and ensure that their responsibility, as it comes through, drives it on. To say that does not advance us very far because there are still major inhibitions to making that work. The small changes we have made, for example the criminal justice area committees which now mean that all the agencies are at least organised on the same geographical basis, which was not the case until a year or so ago, is an important step down that route. I genuinely say to you that a Home Affairs Committee inquiry into this area has quite a lot of merit. Chairman: You are a hard taskmaster, Minister. Martin Linton? Mr Linton 213. There are six different organisations that you say are independent but they are all part of the criminal justice system. Do I understand that if there is to be a central computer system that would enable a case to be followed right the way through from police enquiries to probation? (Mr Clarke) That is correct. The gateway to the whole system will be the so-called Case Prep System for the police which is part of the NCPS national information systems process which starts with the police, which is when you arrive in the police station and the data is first onto a PC in each police station. That becomes the core of the system that then goes right through the whole area. Even that has not started rolling out yet although we are committed to rolling it out. You are quite right, the idea is that that data should transfer across the different agencies so at least certain big chunks of core data are simply moved on the push of a button rather than having to re-enter the kind of example Mr Wright was giving, the colour of eyes and hair, whatever it might be, at each different stage and doing it in different ways which gives rise to all the errors that the Chairman was pointing to earlier on. Chairman 214. I am conscious of the fact that we will be required elsewhere very soon. Mr Herdan, just two quick questions. What kind of definition are you going to be working on of the word "vulnerable". It is much easier to understand with children and young people but when it comes to adults it is not simply a matter of their age or frailty. The second question is there was a lot of concern expressed by voluntary organisations last week as to which level of certificate they should be seeking and a very strong demand for much more clarity from the Bureau about that. Could you comment on those two points please. (Mr Herdan) Could I pass those to my colleague, Mr Wright, to answer. (Mr Wright) In terms of "vulnerable" a definition has been circulated for consultation purposes. It is at the back of one of the annexes to the memorandum we sent you. It proceeds on the assumption that not everybody who is old or disabled is necessarily vulnerable. So it takes the process through a thinking process of about three stages. "A person may be considered vulnerable if he receives..." and then it lists the services. And then that is in relation to a "substantial learning or physical disability, physical or mental illness ...", etcetera, etcetera, and then is "substantially dependent upon others who can overcome his will". It is shorthand but it is that three-stage process that we are looking at at the present time to narrow it down to those who are truly said to be vulnerable. Anybody can feel vulnerable. A woman being taken home in a taxi, for example, in a strange area may feel vulnerable at that moment. Here we are looking at vulnerable adults who are vulnerable through that sort of thinking process. 215. The second point was the call of the voluntary organisations for some better guidance on the appropriate level of certificate they should seek. There would be a tendency for them to go for the biggie, understandably. (Mr Wright) Yes, which will only apply if it is within the legislation. Of course, there are terms within the legislation that people are seeking guidance on. The legislation, for example, talks about "regularly involved in caring for, training, supervising and being in sole charge" so there are questions about what does "regularly" mean and so on and so forth. It is not at the end of the day for us to interpret the law but we will give some guidance as to what CRB understands by those particular expressions which hopefully will help organisations to see which is the right level for them. (Mr Clarke) What we have done in the draft guidance document is set out at paragraphs 124, 125 and 127 our understanding of the basic disclosure, the standard disclosure and the enhanced disclosure, and we are very interested in the response of voluntary bodies to that and we are prepared to modify our guidance in the light of the submissions that are made to us on those. Chairman: That is very helpful. Right, Minister, it is always a pleasure seeing you, and Mr Herdan and Mr Wright. Thank you for your assistance. You have all been very helpful.