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Criminal Records Bureau

The Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing, and Community Safety (Ms Hazel Blears): I have today placed in the Library of the House a copy of a consultation paper on draft regulations to be made under Part 5 of the Police Act 1997 aimed at strengthening the role of Registered Bodies in the Disclosure process. Responses to the consultation are invited by 23 February 2004.

The draft regulations will be made under new powers conferred by the Criminal Justice Act 2003. These implement key recommendations of the Independent Review Team appointed, in September 2002, by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to take a fundamental look at the operations of the Criminal Records Bureau. In particular, the Review Team

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recommended that the critical role of Registered Bodies in the Disclosure process should be upgraded by making them unambiguously responsible for validating the identity of Disclosure applicants and for ensuring that application forms are fully and accurately completed. The draft regulations achieve these objectives by attaching conditions to registration; were such conditions are breached the provisions in the Criminal Justice Act will enable a Registered Body's registration to be suspended or revoked.

The Criminal Records Bureau will put in place a Registered Body assurance team to improve the level of training and support to Registered Bodies to help them meet the standards expected of them. To meet the cost of managing and supporting the Registered Body network, the draft regulations provide for Registered Bodies to pay an annual fee of £300. The consultation paper invites views on alternative means of funding the Registered Body assurance team.

By raising the professionalism of Registered Bodies in this way we can further improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the Disclosure process. The performance of the CRB has improved considerably over the past year. It now has the capacity to process over 50,000 Disclosure applications per week, double the number of summer 2002, and is consistently meeting its service standards of issuing 90 per cent of Standard and Enhanced Disclosures within 2 and 4 weeks respectively. Moreover, the CRB has now taken on the processing of some one quarter of a million applications from staff working in the care sector.

The Government has previously made clear that the CRB must be self-financing from 2005–06. As the CRB moves towards full cost recovery, it is necessary to reduce (from £18.8 million in 2003–04 to £8.1 million in 2004–05) the substantial subsidy the Bureau currently receives from the general taxpayer and make a compensating increase in the Disclosure fee. From 1 April 2004 the fee for an Enhanced Disclosure will be £33 and for a Standard Disclosure £28. The fee payable by a Registered Body for registering an additional counter-signatory will be increased to £33. Disclosures will continue to be issued free to volunteers, saving the voluntary sector some £12 million in 2004–05.


Entry Clearance

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): I am pleased to announce the appointment of Ms Fiona Lindsley as the new Independent Monitor for Entry Clearance Refusals without the Right of Appeal. Her appointment is for two years. Ms Lindsley brings a wealth of experience in the immigration field. The Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), and I look forward to working closely with her to ensure that we are offering a fair service to our visa clients.

I should also like to take the opportunity to acknowledge the excellent work undertaken by Rabinder Singh QC, the previous Independent Monitor.

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I should also inform the House that the Independent Monitor's report for 2003 (which covers decisions taken in 2002) has been delayed because of the lengthy recruitment process. Ms Lindsley has agreed to

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complete it by 3 May 2004 and I shall of course present it as usual to the House. The timetable for the 2004 report remains the same, and will be available by 30 November 2004.