Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140
MONDAY 12 FEBRUARY 2001
CLARKE MP, MR
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
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
(Mr Herdan) We have a service standard of achieving
any resolution of 95% of disputes within five days, or a week
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
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
(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
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
(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.
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
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.
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.
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 computersI
do not make a political point about that, I am well aware of the
problem of setting up large databaseswhat 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 particularlyas 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 considerationwere 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 governmentthis is not
a party political pointis 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
(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 millionyou
have already given us an estimate of the number of enhanced enquirieswhat
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.