Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140 - 159)




  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 Four 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 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 95% of disputes within five days, or a week effectively.

  143. Five working days?
  (Mr Herdan) Yes, 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 will take 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 of 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 or 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 depth that 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 done 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 the 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 obtain it by contact with the relevant international authorities.
  (Mr Clarke) But the communication of 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 a 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 if 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.


  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 point put to you the difficulty that the police might face, as was exemplified in the Panorama programme last night, about the Wonderland Paedophile Group, where they knew that one of the 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 action that was 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 other 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 will 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 of, 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 extremely difficult for such a 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 to dimension the 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 one of 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 dimensioned 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 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, so around 800,000 out of the overall total of 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.

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