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20 Jan 2010 : Column 132WH—continued

To pick up on some of the hon. Gentleman's later points, I should clarify that there is no need for a CRB check when the person is not alone with children. That
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is commonly misapprehended by many organisations. One leading light in a large voluntary organisation said to me, "There's a problem. Everyone thinks that if you do gardening in a hospital, you have to have a CRB check." It is important that we get the message out that the risk of decision making lies with the employer, agency or voluntary group that employs people. They must still go through the normal checks and procedures to ensure that someone is safe. The CRB check is simply a tool. It provides information. In a moment, I will give some examples of people with information who have gone on to work.

The hon. Gentleman alleged that the system reduces the number of people who volunteer. Many organisations, such as the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, have gone on the record publicly to explain that there is no reduction in volunteering. About one fifth of all CRB checks are done on volunteers. There is no evidence of a massive reduction in volunteering. We are a nation of volunteers, and it is not having a negative impact. I will talk about portability and its effect in a moment.

On the Independent Safeguarding Authority, the regulations do not apply to private and family arrangements or ad hoc arrangements. Anything more frequent than once a week would be seen as a regular arrangement. For example, someone who goes to a school to read to pupils under supervision would not be required to register with the ISA or undergo a CRB check. I have gone to make paper flowers with my daughter's Brownie group. The Brown Owl was present at all times, so I did not require a CRB check, although I have had one for the Scouts, as I attended a residential event in my spare time. There are different circumstances.

I am a mother, and I see the practical reality of why this works. I am not a vulnerable adult, but I want to know that when my children are out of my care and in the hands of professional strangers, those strangers are vetted and cleared to be safe with my children. Arrangements for care that I make with my neighbours, family and friends are a matter for me personally, and it is right that the state draws a line in the sand at that point.

The hon. Gentleman raised many issues, and in the seven minutes remaining I will canter through them. The number of job offers withdrawn as a result of disclosure is only 0.5 per cent. of the 4.4 million per annum. An Ipsos MORI report from 2008 showed clearly that the primary reason for withdrawal of job offers is that details of the individual's previous convictions are on the form, which applied in 71 per cent. of cases. That could be an unspent conviction, or one that was relevant to the job in hand. Only 20 per cent. of those job offers were withdrawn due to the police force information released as part of the CRB check. That included cautions and non-conviction information, and involved only about one in five of that small number. Only 4 per cent. of that small number-about 0.5 per cent. of the total-were withdrawn due to police information released in a separate letter. That pertains to the example given by the hon. Gentleman about his constituent. A very small number of people are in the same situation as his constituent. That does not mean that we do not take the matter seriously, but it is
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important to safeguard children, and we must recognise that there are consequences from an arrangement such as this.

I can give examples of disclosure information that has been revealed to employers, but not led to withdrawal of a job offer. Information released to provide clarity involving a rape conviction-rape is a serious crime, and none of us would treat that lightly-may show the ages and relationship of the victim and offender, and may inform a decision. If an 18-year-old boy and a 15 year-old-girl were in a consensual long-term relationship, a different light would be cast on that, and there have been examples of employers taking on someone with a conviction or allegation of rape.

In one example involving the mental health of an applicant, an individual had been sectioned under the Mental Health Act 1983, and the police had been called to an incident. The information states that the individual was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and that individual was employed. There may be information about drug treatment programmes and so on that an applicant attended as part of a disposal of sentence. That has not prevented people from entering employment.

The key point is that the final and most important decision is made by the recruiting body. The CRB check plays a role, but the Government do not provide a gold-plated guarantee. That is not the role of the CRB. We can do more cross-party-the Government need to do more, as do all of us-to ensure that we recognise and challenge CRB checks if they are made inappropriately.

I have little time left, and I want to canter around the issue of delays. There have been perceived problems, but the service standards are good. Most cases of enhanced checks-87.7 per cent.-will be issued in 28 days. The time they take varies, because sometimes an employer or registered body that processes applications may hold on to the application form. I sometimes receive letters complaining about a delay and it turns out that the employer has held on to the form for perhaps six weeks or more, which has caused a delay in getting it to the CRB.

Sometimes the form is not as accurate as it could be, which is why we have reduced the number of bodies that are able to process them. We had evidence to show that those who did not deal with them regularly were less accurate. Having fewer, better trained registered bodies dealing with higher volumes means that they are better at the job, and that has helped. Clarity of information provided may be an issue that we must go back to and check, so getting it right first time is important.

The key issue is whether there is conviction or non-conviction information. The deal is that police forces where someone has been living for the past five years must make a check. For many people the return is nil and the check is done quickly. When the CRB has information, it can be turned round quickly, but so far only six forces and the Metropolitan police are involved. There is an issue concerning the operational effectiveness of police disclosure units, and that may be because they are small in number.

Work is being done, and I shall not go into it in more detail, but I would welcome hon. Members visiting a disclosure unit. The Metropolitan police are only down the road from Parliament and would be happy to host hon. Members, and I am sure their local police forces
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would do so. The Metropolitan police are particularly useful because the unit is large and it can be seen how minutely they look at non-conviction data. Such a visit would be helpful, and I would be happy to arrange it for the hon. Gentleman.

The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of complaints. Complaints about disclosures amount to 0.18 per cent.-just less than 0.2 per cent.-of the total number of disclosures issued. We take any complaint seriously, but most in the public service would think that a pretty good standard. As I said, customer satisfaction is very high.

The role undertaken by police forces goes to the heart of safeguarding.

Mr. Vaizey: May I ask the Minister to address multiple checks?

Meg Hillier: I will move on to multiple checks. I just wanted to say that the police take this seriously and that I would welcome the hon. Gentleman's visit to the disclosure unit.

On portability, there appears to be a common misconception that CRB checks cannot be taken elsewhere. CRB checks that have been done elsewhere can be accepted, but if the job it was done for was very different, the information released might be different. It is for the employer to decide. If a check is very old, it might be out of date. If a check is a few weeks old, another one might not be required.

It might be that people are over-asking for checks. I have met organisations that say it is their standard policy to ask for checks. They do not need to do so, but should look at each case individually. They should be prepared to take that risk-balance judgment in a sensible way. Broadly, for a similar job in a similar time frame, the check is portable. We are looking to make it a continuous, updating process. That is under way at the moment with the CRB.

The CRB cannot endorse the use of portability due to the risks involved. It must let the employer make the judgment. The CRB used to make the decision, but it is not appropriate for that to be done centrally. It must be done at the local level, where the employer has a relationship with the employee or potential employee, access to their referees and all the other information involved in a normal recruitment process. An organisation will have to consider the additional information that was released.

Mr. Nigel Evans (in the Chair): Order. We are moving on to the next debate. I hope that the Minister is able to stay, at least until Mr. Austin arrives.

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Coventry and the West Midlands Economy

4.42 pm

Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Evans. I think this is the first debate I have attended that you have chaired and I look forward to your guidance.

I do not know whether the Cadbury announcement makes this an opportune moment to raise these issues. There has been a lot of concern in the west midlands over the Kraft takeover of Cadbury. Kraft does not have a good reputation for retaining employees, or on plant closures. Perhaps when the Minister gets here he could consider putting pressure on Cadbury to at least meet representatives of the labour force. Just before Christmas, I met the trade unions along with a number of other west midlands MPs. They were having great difficulty getting information regarding the takeover bid. Perhaps he could arrange with Kraft the start of discussions with the trade unions. They certainly have concerns about jobs and plant closures and they need reassurance. I hope he can do something to get those discussions going.

In initiating this debate, I knew that the Government had been working hard to deal with the west midlands economy. This is not an attempt to denigrate the Government's attempts to help the west midlands economy. I am sure the Minister knows that despite the Government assistance, the west midlands, which I have always said is the powerhouse of the British economy, has been struggling over the past few years. The recession has affected the west midlands more seriously than any other region because it is a manufacturing area and an innovative area. It has a great reputation for the production of skills and contains a number of great universities. Nevertheless, in the west midlands, manufacturing is allied to trade. When world trade goes down, manufacturing in the midlands is a victim.

Running alongside that, the west midlands probably has the highest unemployment rate in the UK at approximately 10 per cent, and we are obviously concerned about that. The area also has the fastest rate of job-shedding in the UK, and there are 12 per cent. less jobs in manufacturing compared with 2008. Employment is not predicted to return to 2008 levels until 2015. The 18 to 20-year-old age group has seen the largest rise in unemployment, to 32.2 per cent., and the area has the worst performance of all regions in terms of business activity.

The Minister will know that in recent years we have had the cases of MG Rover and Peugeot; there is the looming closure of one of the Jaguar Land Rover plants, and there is a lot of discussion about that. However, there is some good news regarding Jaguar, as it has said it has a 10-year programme for the midlands. That is good news given all the uncertainties. Recently, Ericsson decided to pull out of Coventry, despite the fact that the Government are still in discussions with it to see whether they can persuade it to stay. We must pay tribute to the Government for that, and my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-West (Mr. Robinson) has played a major part in those discussions. We hoped that he would be here today, but he has obviously been held up. I pay tribute to him for his efforts, along with those of Ministers and trade unions, to see whether Ericsson could be persuaded to stay in the west midlands.

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The decline of manufacture is nationwide and not only in the west midlands, although that area has borne the brunt. To be fair, there has been a lot of diversification in the west midlands over the last 20 years, which has been an important element. As I have indicated, car manufacturing has declined in the past, and only recently Aston Martin announced the cutting of 300 full-time jobs and 200 temporary jobs at the Gaydon plant as a result of falling sales figures. However, the good thing is that Aston Martin is stopping in the midlands, and we could get growth in that area in the future. It is not necessarily all doom and gloom, although it is for those employees who are affected.

Anyone who has gone through unemployment-and I have-knows what it is like to be unemployed. People lose their dignity and worry about their family, and that can create family situations that are not very pleasant to say the least. The husband and wife are constantly under pressure and worried about their children and their mortgage. Those are some of the effects of unemployment.

Although, as I said, Jaguar Land Rover has given us a lot of good news, it had an extended Christmas closure in one of its west midlands plants. There is a lot of bad feeling about what happened with Peugeot and the way that "consultation" was carried out in Coventry. It was arbitrary; there was no consultation at all. Trade unions feel that many continental manufacturers treat their employees differently from the way British employees are treated. In other words, British employees feel that they do not have the same protection as their colleagues on the continent. That has been a concern for a long time.

We must also take globalisation into consideration. Despite the Government giving companies tax credits, work still goes abroad. It is difficult to prevent that work from going abroad because of what is called outsourcing. The regional development agency in the west midlands has invested a considerable amount of money to mitigate the recession in the area, and it has also given Ericsson money. As I said earlier, we are still trying to prevent that closure.

The work goes, of course, to economies and countries where the costs are lower. The British worker is competing against employees abroad who are working for far less-in China or Singapore, for example. Recently, we have had the case of Kraft, and as I said, workers in the UK feel that they are not getting the necessary protection. That cannot be said too often. With every closure, workers have been kept in the dark. France and Germany have used short-time working subsidies to protect manufacturing jobs. Those countries have a massive trade surplus, and we have a deficit.

We must accept that the construction industry has gone through a bad time, but we recognise none the less that the Government have a number of schemes to kick-start the construction industry. We need affordable houses in this country, but we will not get them by building on green areas such as Kings Hill on the outskirts of Coventry, where the green belt is in jeopardy. The area is environmentally valuable. Residents in the area are not saying that we should not have new houses in Coventry; they are saying that there is capacity for about 25,000 houses on Coventry's brown belt, so there
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is no real need to bring Kings Hill into the equation. The matter has gone to a planning appeal. We do not know the outcome, as it is being reviewed, but I wanted to highlight it.

I understand that any eco-housing proposals for Coventry would have to be agreed by Coventry city council. In other words, a voluntary scheme has been proposed for Coventry, as it has throughout the country. It will not be imposed on anybody. If Coventry does not want it, we will not get it. That is what I understand from the Minister for Housing.

We need to do more to retain skills in the west midlands in the UK. We will need them whenever the economy starts to take off. In past economic downturns, we have often found that we lack skills when the upturn comes, which can create many problems for small and large businesses. We also need a strong science base. Coventry, with its two universities, has a lot to offer in that respect. Other universities in the west midlands-I am not too familiar with them-are probably in the same position. A lot of innovation and effort have gone on in the west midlands.

Coventry has a skilled work force, but 20 per cent. of people aged 20 to 24 have a national vocational qualification of level 1 or below. They are the most likely to be unemployed. I know that the Government are considering what can be done to get such groups into employment. As I said, I welcome Jaguar Land Rover's 10-year plan. Not only has it created 100 jobs; those jobs are graduate jobs, which shows that Jaguar Land Rover is taking remaining in Coventry seriously. What happens after the 10-year programme? We will deal with that as we go along.

Advantage West Midlands is running a graduate internship scheme. There is also a national internship scheme. We must congratulate the Government on launching new initiatives to create new apprenticeship schemes, and we should support them as much as we can. In the past, apprenticeships have been neglected. They were certainly neglected by the previous Government. I remember that Rolls-Royce got rid of its apprentice schemes many years ago. I am glad to see that the schemes are coming back.

We had discussions with Rolls-Royce this morning about its future in this country, which looks positive despite the recession. The company has a number of interesting ideas about developing new plants. Ansty in Coventry will be one of the plants to be developed. It gives us a lot of heart to know that Rolls-Royce is planning to stop in Coventry for the future.

When we look on the positive side, we must give a bit more credit to Advantage West Midlands, which created Ansty technology park on a new site. We have had a setback with Ericsson, but when the upturn comes, as I am sure it will, Coventry will be in a good position for that area to take off.

We have had problems at Coventry airport, but whatever people think about that airport, the fact remains that many small businesses are on that site. Because of the structure of the lease, they have to negotiate with the airport company, which is in liquidation, so there is concern about the jobs and businesses on the site. I am told that Coventry city council is negotiating with two partners; I do not know who they are. It seems to be quite positive about the fact that it can save that site and possibly the airport.

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