Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1 - 19)



  Chairman: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to this meeting of the Home Affairs Committee. As you know, we are starting today our inquiry into the Criminal Records Bureau. We want to find out whether we think the resources are available to enable the Bureau to meet the terms of its operational plan, how reliable is the information supplied by the Bureau, and the likely effect of the policy of charging voluntary organisations to use the service. Mr Russell.

  Bob Russell: Mr Chairman, I must declare an interest, in that I am Secretary of the Parliamentary All-Party Scout Group and a member of the Parliamentary All-Party Guide Group.

  Chairman: Thank you for that. I hope the Groups are doing well. I am sure they are, if you have anything to do with it. Well done.

Mr Winnick

  1. I would like to ask some questions. We have received a large number of representations from voluntary organisations, obviously your two, but many others, who are concerned about the cost. Can I get the position absolutely clear. Have you any objection to the Criminal Records Bureau, as such?
  (Mr Twine) In principle, Chairman, no objection to the existence of the Criminal Records Bureau, and, as far as we are concerned, as with many organisations, actually we welcome the advent of what the Criminal Records Bureau will provide, in addition to our existing child protection measures. It is the cost implication and the UK-wide implication which are our two main concerns.

  2. And that is the view of The Guide Association?
  (Mrs Ryall) It is, indeed, exactly the same.

  3. Before this comes into operation, which, as I understand it, is sometime later this year, though there is a question-mark whether, in fact, it will be the position, what about your own records? It could be argued, and do not misunderstand me, but playing the devil's advocate, effectively, if you carried out records, as a well-known, respected, national organisation of long standing, on people who become involved with children, it should not really be necessary for the state to intervene?
  (Mr Twine) It would be very nice, Chairman, if that was the case. We do have a fairly robust system, we have had this in place for well over 40 years, and this includes our own records, it includes taking up references, it includes local interviews, and it is very rigorous, and in The Scout Association alone we are conducting 70,000 checks each year. What the Criminal Records Bureau will provide is additional information, which would not otherwise be available to us. Up until recently, we did have free access, to supplement our own checks, with the DfEE information and with information from the Department of Health; that has now been taken away from us, as a free service, to be incorporated into the CRB information. And that information is an additional adjunct, another tool in the toolbox, for what we require to be absolutely rigorous in our responsibilities for childcare. And the information about criminal records is not otherwise available to us, and that is criminal records not just of cases found guilty but also of the soft information, which can advise us that this might be a person who is unsuitable to work for and with young people. So, from The Scout Association's perspective, whilst we have developed a rigorous approach, and we believe that is as sound as we can have made it so far, we would be failing in our duty of care if we did not avail ourselves of the extra information which CRB will be providing.

  4. But, if I can just pursue the point, Mr Twine, you mention your research and efforts to make sure all is in order for working with children in the Scouts movement, but, however robust it has been, have you discovered that it has not been anywhere near as effective as you would like; because a number of cases have come to light, court cases, where abuse, or attempted abuse, of children has taken place?
  (Mr Twine) That is right. Chairman, we set this into context of doing 70,000 checks each year; out of those 70,000, it is about 300 which give us some cause for concern. But, in that 300, that includes concern for such things as attitude towards safety or recklessness in outdoor activities, financial irregularities, and we are a charity with charitable funds, so we have to be concerned about that. So, in the total of all of that, we are talking of no more than 30 people each year about whom the checks identify that we would have a concern of a child protection nature. I then go to complete the response, that, when we look at each year for the past number of years, it is about ten cases each year that we have evidence that leads to very serious concern of someone being found guilty of a child protection case; and, in each of those ten, that has occurred in the last few years, that has been a first-time offender, so there was no criminal record from a court which could have been available to us. It may have been the case that soft information from a police investigation through a CRB check might have thrown that up; but that is fewer than ten, in a year, in the context of 70,000 checks.

  5. Yes, I take the point. It would also be correct, would it not, and perhaps this applies more to men than to women, that those who have a wish to be involved with the Scouts movement, as adults, and have the real objective of abusing children while they are in contact with them, might see the Scouts as a good opportunity of doing what we all deeply deplore, and which undoubtedly is criminal?
  (Mr Twine) Absolutely, Mr Chairman. We recognise very much that organisations such as ours are a soft target for direct contact with young people, for informal grooming over a period of time, and for using the opportunity of sustained, unsupervised access with youngsters for actually abusing young people, and we take our concern in that very, very seriously. It is also an issue, if I may just develop that at the moment, that such adults who are interested in abusing young people do not respect territorial boundaries, and, whilst the CRB is being established as an England and Wales operation, we are a United Kingdom organisation, as is The Guide Association and many other voluntary organisations, and we have grave concerns about the ability for exchange of information, for a single-stop check, for the whole of the United Kingdom. And, of course, on the funding issue, the very fact that the Scottish Parliament has agreed that checks for volunteers will be not charged for, in Scotland, there is no arrangement for charging in Northern Ireland at the moment, we know that the Welsh Assembly is concerned about this, and we are gravely concerned about a disequality of the operational information and the disequality of the charging policy throughout the four home countries.

  6. I will come to that in a moment; but, when you said the Scouts movement can be a soft touch for those whose behaviour is so deplorable and criminal, would you, Mrs Ryall, take the view that that would be the position in The Guide Association, or that it is not really a problem?
  (Mrs Ryall) It is not really a problem in The Guide Association. Our own risk assessments and, indeed, our own history show that the risk for young women in The Guide Association comes from the extended contacts of the women involved, and, of course, even with the criminal record checking system, we would not be checking husbands, brothers, boyfriends, and so on, of guiders. We have relied very heavily on our application procedure to screen out anyone who might be a risk, and the risk is, indeed, very small; and I would not want to suggest that women do not abuse girls, because, in fact, there are cases of women abusing girls. But what we do is, we rely quite heavily on those people working in a community context, over a long period of time, where people know them, they understand them, and if anything happens it is not too long before we hear about it, and therefore they are filtered out. We also give people six months of working in a programme after they have joined us, in order for us to assess whether or not they are suitable to work with children, and at that point they will be either confirmed, they will have filtered themselves out, or we will not confirm the appointment. So, from our point of view, the Criminal Records Bureau would add, in fact, very little, because I would suggest that the number of women on any banned list would be very few.

  7. Thank you. You all are concerned, all the organisations that have written to us, not simply those we are seeing today but a large number of voluntary organisations, you are concerned over the cost, which Mr Twine, at least, has mentioned. What would be the argument, indeed, taking the point which Mrs Ryall has just made, that it is not really necessary, it is not compulsory to use the Criminal Records Bureau, Mrs Ryall has just told us, it is not going to add much, what would you say to that, Mr Twine; say the Scout movement says, "It's not necessarily compulsory, we have our own records and that's the end of it"?
  (Mr Twine) I think, if I may, Mr Chairman, that when our members have received such a suggestion from Government Ministers and from civil servants, in the response to the letters they have sent in, they have regarded such a view as being rather incredulous, because not only do our parents expect us to do everything available to us for child protection, so do our insurers, so does society at large. We would contend that, if we found ourselves not using the CRB, that someone had slipped through, had abused a child, or children, we found ourselves with a court case, we were asked, "Well, did you not use the CRB?" and we said, "No," we would be found, if not legally guilty, morally guilty, and our insurers would be less than standing by us; and then voluntary effort in this country would be diminished, because credibility of voluntary youth work would be significantly diminished.
  (Mrs Ryall) I would endorse that view, actually.

  8. It certainly would make sense to me, as I am sure it does to all my colleagues round the table.
  (Mr Twine) If I may supplement that, very briefly, as well, the work and the wording in the Criminal Justice and Court Service Act, of just last year, makes it quite clear that we are expected, as a voluntary organisation, to do everything which is reasonable, it does not specify that we must do checks, but if I may quote for the record here, it does, and I quote, require us "to maintain a culture of vigilance, including carrying out checks, and that may help to demonstrate that all available means were used to protect children should any manner of legal difficulty later arise." So, whilst not quoted explicitly that checks are obligatory, even in law it is implied that there is an expectation we should do everything available to us.

  9. So the upshot really is this. You welcome the setting up of the Criminal Records Bureau, you intend to take advantage of it, for all the reasons that you have both stated, but your concern is over the cost. Now, as I understand it, it will be approximately £10 for each inquiry, is that so?
  (Mr Twine) That is correct, for the level of inquiry and disclosure which we require, which is the Enhanced Disclosure, on the basis that it is that level of disclosure which gives us the additional information that we need for our duty and culture of care.

  10. So, on average, as we now see it, £10 per inquiry. How much would it cost the Scouts movement, nationally, in a year?
  (Mr Twine) Nationally, Chairman, that is three-quarters of a million pounds; we are looking at 70,000 checks each year, of different individuals, on top of which there is then the service interaction of additional members of staff which we are going to have to employ anyway to do the extra work and to have the interface with the CRB. And I would be very content to acknowledge that the registration cost to be a Registered Body and the operational cost, as being a responsible, national organisation, we are content to bear, provided that, obviously, they are reasonable. They have yet to be declared; but we are prepared to accept we have a responsibility to engage with those set-up costs. It is the `per check' cost which is the significant issue here.

  11. Now would that three-quarters of a million come from the headquarters, because we have had a memorandum from the Surrey Scouts movement; explain to us, if you would, Mr Twine, where that money would come from, if, at the end of the day, you had to pay it?
  (Mr Twine) There will be two options that we have considered, and our trustees have taken a view on the two options; the two options are either that we require the individual applicant to fork up the £10 himself, or herself,—

  12. The parent, in fact, in practice?
  (Mr Twine) No, it would be the person coming forward to volunteer; the person coming forward to volunteer is an option, that we make that a direct charge. We are gravely concerned about taking that route, because we have externally researched evidence that up to 60 per cent of volunteers would be deterred by being given a levy at the point when one is trying to recruit them. In many areas, particularly to do with social exclusion, we are finding great difficulty in obtaining people to volunteer in their local community, and in the active disincentive are saying, "I know you've never volunteered before, I know it's not part of what your community usually does, but we would desperately like you to do this; but, by the way, we want £10 from you," we know would be an active disincentive of up to 60 per cent of volunteers. For us, that means 40,000 fewer volunteers each year. So that is seen to be the severe downside of charging each volunteer. In terms of as an organisation, then that becomes, therefore, three-quarters of a million pounds onto our budget; and, if I have got to find an extra three-quarters of a million pounds on my budget, I have to do that by some sort of balance between reducing our services to provide support for the volunteers, or by increasing my revenue. And my sources for increasing revenue are to pass that on in membership subscription increases, or to pass that on into charitable fund-raising for what, we contend, should be out of the public purse, rather than, yet again, a burden on charitable fund-raising.

  13. I did ask if it is going to be paid by the Scouts movement; you have indicated in your reply it will be at the national level, it will not be the local sections, as such, is that right?
  (Mr Twine) That is the correct deduction from how our trustees have approached this. We believe that, if a charge is levied, we are so committed to needing to recruit volunteers, in areas where volunteers are recruiting, that we would make every endeavour to bear that somehow, centrally, even if that had to mean a reduction in service, rather than put it as a fee on the new volunteer, because we would lose so many, and, our contention is, that is not just from scouting but from every other organisation as well.

  14. How much would it cost, nationally, The Guide Association, Mrs Ryall, if, at the end of it all, you had to pay?
  (Mrs Ryall) We have taken a very pragmatic approach to if we had to do this, so we have confined the number of people that we would have to check to those who work directly, face-to-face, with young people, and who would therefore require the enhanced check; and we estimate that as being 45,000 people a year, so that would be £450,000 that we would have to find simply to check those who work face-to-face with the girls. In addition to that, we would have to set up some combined structures, because we pride ourselves quite well in having standards across the United Kingdom, standards in appointments, standards in training, standards in how people are referenced and checked, and we would want to ensure that those standards are maintained, if we use the Criminal Records Bureau. And this is back again to Derek's point about the inequality of treatment across the United Kingdom, and the fact that we may end up having to incorporate three or four different sets of standards and administration into how currently we do our appointments; and the cost of that, of course, is as yet unknown, but we would have to bear that.

  Mr Winnick: So, though the sum is less overall, you would be faced with the same sort of financial problem as Mr Twine has said. You see, it might be said, you said that it would deter volunteers, but since £10 in these inflation days is, whatever it is, how many—

  Mr Howarth: Four pints of beer.

Mr Winnick

  15. Yes, or two cinema tickets, or the rest. Being somewhat, again, a devil's advocate, £10 is not what it was 30 years ago, which would have been the value of over £100. Again, if that point is made to you by Ministers, what is really £10 these days, however unfortunate inflation has been, what would you say?
  (Mr Twine) Regardless of how people in this room might feel about £10, Chairman, our work, and indeed our best growth, in recent years, in our kind of youth work, is in areas of severe social exclusion, it is in areas of acute poverty, it is in areas where we are working with young people with criminal records, with themselves delinquency, who we are trying to have adults to do something for and with, in their own local communities. Let alone the fact that £10 is very serious for them, the very concept of charging, when they may or may not be accepted or may or may not be turned away, is going to be so grave, in terms of the volume of people who will be put off volunteering; and that really is, we would be saying colloquially, cutting off our nose to spite our face, just our own organisation alone. If I go to Treasury sort of speak, in terms of money, with The Scout Association's warranted leaders alone, providing the youth work which they do, if they were paid at the money of a paid youth-worker for a local authority, we are delivering, free of charge, £320 million worth of youth work in this country, and there are similar figures for the Guides and many other organisations. And, if we were to lose 40 or 50 or 60 per cent of that, that is the figure that I set against £10 a head, or £750,000.

  Mr Winnick: That is a very good argument to the points that I was making as a devil's advocate. I tend to agree entirely with what you said, Mr Twine.


  16. You are both assuming that there is going to be a standard £10 fee for whatever level of certificate you want, and I bet my bottom dollar that, if there is charging, they are going to want a lot more for the enhanced one than they will for the ordinary one, if I know the world?
  (Mr Twine) The information which we have, Chairman, is £10 for the enhanced certificate, and the others may be less; but that is still open to the results from the impact assessment.

Mr Howarth

  17. I would like to pursue this point, if I may, because, although I have received very strong representations from friends of mine in the Scout movement in Hampshire, indeed in my own constituency, in Farnborough, nevertheless, I do find it difficult to criticise a suggestion that volunteers be asked to pay £10, when the alternative is that the organisation they wish to help will be effectively bankrupted by the imposition of those charges, were the organisation to have to meet the full cost. And can I put this, to a certain extent, as a devil's advocate argument, that, given that those who want to come forward and volunteer are public-spirited people, that they understand the nature of the society in which we live and the danger that young people are exposed to today, would they not be willing, and would it not become part of accepted practice, that they would expect to pay the £10, which, as I suggested to Mr Winnick, is about four pints of beer, if the alternative was forcing the organisations to reach very significant sums of money in their own right?
  (Mrs Ryall) May I answer?
  (Mr Twine) Yes, you may. I am calming myself before I respond.
  (Mrs Ryall) It is a fact that some people can afford to pay, and some people cannot. There is a philosophical question here, in that, commonsensically, what volunteers believe, and volunteers believe that they are giving something to society, and they give willingly, and they give long, and they give a lot. To be faced with, "If you want to enter the volunteering field," let's forget about organisations, for the moment, "if you want to be a volunteer with young people, you will first have to pay to get yourself a criminal record check," now the message being given there is that we give to the public all this £320 million plus worth of work and we still pay for the privilege of giving that. And when I am talking to guiders, and so on, in places like Bristol and Glasgow, and all sorts of other places, they will say, "If I had to pay this, for myself, I wouldn't be here, or I'd have to pay £1 a week."

  18. But, surely, if they are on the point of committing themselves to a huge amount of time, effort, commitment, devotion to a cause, they are the sort of people who will understand the need to make sure that they have met all the requirements?
  (Mrs Ryall) I would suggest, also, that they are the sort of people who understand that in giving you also receive, and that, in providing services to other people's children, which would otherwise have to be supplied by the state, or other bodies, there should also be a partnership with those who expect this work to be delivered by the voluntary sector. And I guess that the way that they would look at that is to say that it is a public duty to have clearance, in terms of police checks, and so on, therefore it should be borne by the public purse, and we will do everything else; and that is genuinely how many of these people feel. And it is feelings and emotions, I think, that are engaged when people volunteer, rather than rationale, and that is my experience.

  19. And you are suggesting that, if this were to come to pass and the requirement were for a payment of £10 for the Enhanced Disclosure certificate, there would not develop a natural acceptance across the Scout and Guide movement that that was all part of the arrangements, and that what we are seeing at the moment is a battle, which once it was over would be accepted? I pose the question to you.
  (Mr Twine) Can I comment, as well, if I may. It is not just the willingness, it is the ability; and the genuine concern which we would have as well, and I take the same position as Terry on this, is that it is an issue about volunteering in society. If we are to have a situation where the only volunteers are the volunteers who are able to pay to be a volunteer then we are back to a situation of decades ago, when volunteering is the preserve of those who are in areas of personal positions of social and financial affluence. Which is actually the reverse direction from what we believe we are trying to commit ourselves to, to addressing social exclusion, to addressing areas of abject poverty, and to encouraging, not discouraging, a concept and a practice of volunteering from those who have never before volunteered in their community, when we expect them to give of their time, their energy, their commitment, their vision, their values, and yet we are going to charge them for the privilege of doing so.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 28 March 2001