FIFTH SPECIAL REPORT
GOVERNMENT REPLY TO THE SECOND REPORT FROM
HOME AFFAIRS COMMITTEE, SESSION 2000-01
CRIMINAL RECORDS BUREAU
The Home Affairs Committee has agreed to the following
We have received the following response from the
Home Office to our Second Report, HC 227, Session 2000-01, on
the Criminal Records Bureau.
1. The Government welcomes this report, and the broad
endorsement that it expresses
_ for the establishment
of the Criminal Records Bureau.
The Government has attached great importance to improving
arrangements for safeguarding children and vulnerable adults.
The establishment of the Criminal Records Bureau is a key element
in the Government's wider programme to protect the vulnerable.
The Government notes in particular the Committee's
agreement (paragraph 52) with the Home Secretary that dangerous
people must be prevented from working with children and vulnerable
adults, and that the Criminal Records Bureau has an important
role in making this a reality; and
_ for key decisions
and proposals by the Government in relation to the Criminal Records
2. The Committee's report focused on a number
of topics in relation to the Criminal Records Bureau. This memorandum
responds to recommendations and other points highlighted by the
Committee, under each of these themes in chronological sequence.
Volunteers and the Criminal Records Bureau
We welcome the Government's decision not to charge
volunteers for criminal record checks and acknowledge the strength
of opinion from the voluntary sector - made clear in oral evidence
to us - which helped to persuade them to do so (paragraph 11;
also paragraph 49).
It is not possible to judge whether the decision
to provide free checks for volunteers will lead to a substantial
increase in estimated demand from the voluntary sector although
we believe this to be likely. We recommend that the Criminal Records
Bureau should be prepared for a possible surge in demand from
the voluntary sector when drawing up its operational contingency
plan (paragraph 14).
3. The Government listened very carefully to
views from within the voluntary sector itself, and expressed by
others (not least, Members of both Houses of Parliament) on behalf
of the sector, about the implications of the Criminal Records
Bureau making charges in respect of disclosures for volunteers.
These views centred on those in the most sensitive positions -
principally those working most closely with children and with
vulnerable adults, who would apply for higher level disclosures.
The Government concluded that such higher level - standard and
enhanced - disclosures should be issued free of charge to all
volunteers, not just in the voluntary sector itself, but across
4. It is recognised that this decision will have
an impact on the demand for disclosures. This factor is being
taken into account in the Criminal Records Bureau's forecasting
of demand, as the Committee suggested.
Other users of the Criminal Records Bureau
The Government must find a joined-up way of meeting
the costs of the Criminal Records Bureau; and we hope that this
will also stimulate better co-ordination of other policies affecting
low wage earners (paragraph 20).
5. The Government has re-emphasised - when announcing
that standard and enhanced disclosures will be issued free of
charge to volunteers, and again since - that it remains the intention
that the Criminal Records Bureau should be self-financed by means
of the charges that it makes for disclosures.
6. The Government has also stressed its determination
to keep the cost of disclosures as low as possible. Since the
Committee's report was produced, the Government has announced
that it proposes to charge £12 for each of the three levels
of disclosures. (The
necessary regulations will be laid in due course.)
7. In this, as in all other significant matters
regarding the establishment of the Criminal Records Bureau, there
has been close consultation with a number of government departments
with policy interests embracing, and representing, a wide range
of users of the Bureau. Soundings of stakeholders' interests have
also been taken through specific consultation exercises, and through
ad hoc meetings and discussions, as well as through the medium
of the Bureau's Customer Forum, which has been meeting since October
8. The Government is very conscious of the position
of persons involved in childminding and childcare, to which the
Committee's report made specific reference. A particular factor
in relation to childminders operating from their own home is the
cost of checking, through the Criminal Records Bureau, all adult
members of the household. The Government has set aside money for
the cost of checks for childcare workers in 2001/02, and will
review the need for continuing provision in future years. People
vetted by Ofsted as part of their childcare registration will
not have to bear the cost of criminal record checks.
Accuracy of the raw data
It would be unacceptable if errors on the Police
National Computer let even one undesirable person through the
checking system. Equally, inaccurate data should not be allowed
to traduce a blameless individual. The manifest levels of Police
National Computer error make us doubt whether it can support a
system of criminal records certificates (paragraph 32).
Delay in entering information onto the Police
National Computer undermines the accuracy of the system. The police
seem unable to overcome this. We recommend, as did our predecessors
in 1990, that court clerks take over responsibility for entering
court results directly onto the Police National Computer within
24 hours of conviction (paragraph 33).
The Home Office must ensure that improvements
are made to the quality of data stored on the Police National
Computer. The Criminal Records Bureau should closely monitor the
number of complaints it receives that certificates are incorrect
in the first year of operation (paragraph 50).
9. The Government is determined that the service
provided by the Criminal Records Bureau is as reliable as possible,
in the interests both of the vulnerable whom it is intended to
safeguard and of the blameless applicant. Great efforts are therefore
being made in the design of identity checking arrangements in
order to detect fraud and avoid misidentification.
10. Similarly, the Government is determined that
the quality of the data upon which the Criminal Records Bureau
will draw should be high. The Government has made clear its concern
about the quality of the data held on the Phoenix application
of the Police National Computer, which will be at the heart of
the Bureau's operation. The reports to which the Committee's report
referred, drawing attention to problems in this regard, were themselves
commissioned by the Home Office.
11. The Government has made it clear that it
in no way wishes to minimise the scale of the problem. Nevertheless,
it is important to stress that Phoenix is multi-functional, serving
as a repository of records of criminal convictions and as a police
investigatory and operational tool containing detailed information
about individuals' personal characteristics and modus operandi.
Available information indicates that inaccuracies or omissions
are far more likely to arise in these areas than in relation to
conviction data. It is essentially on the latter that the Criminal
Records Bureau will need to draw.
12. It is also important to bear in mind that,
compared with current arrangements for police checks on people
employed in sensitive positions, the Criminal Records Bureau's
arrangements will include two key elements:
a. the subject of the application will receive
the disclosure document, and will thus know what information is
being provided and have the opportunity to challenge anything
with which he/she disagrees; and
b. there will be appeals machinery for dealing
promptly with complaints or disputes.
The Criminal Records Bureau will keep a record of
all complaints, as the Committee suggested.
13. Nevertheless, the Government fully agrees
with the Committee that action needs to be pursued to improve
the quality of data on Phoenix. Particular emphasis is being placed
on improving the timeliness of inputting data onto the system
both at the initial (arrest/summons) stage of a case, and later
at the court results stage. All police forces have accepted performance
indicators for each of these stages (respectively, within 1 day;
and within 72 hours of receiving the results from the court) which
were set out in the Compliance Strategy drawn up by the Association
of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and circulated to all forces in
14. Acting under a direction issued under section
54(3) of the Police Act 1996, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary
will be carrying out a review and inspection designed to further
forces' efficiency and effectiveness in this area. This will focus
on improving the timeliness of data inputting. Some delays can
be rectified by improved business processes, and HM Inspectorate
will be communicating information on good practice through conferences
and other means. HM Inspectorate will be monitoring at frequent
intervals all forces' performance against the ACPO standards,
and also in carrying forward a programme to tackle backlogs. HM
Inspectorate will address any individual issues that may arise,
and, later this summer, will produce a report measuring the progress
that has been achieved by the end of August.
15. In parallel, ACPO has commissioned a review,
to be completed quickly, of rules governing the weeding of records
which no longer need to be retained on Phoenix, taking into account
legislative changes. The Government has made it clear that, thereafter,
the development of programs to enable the new rules to be implemented
automatically will be given priority.
16. The programme described above flows from
discussions involving all key interests, including the Information
17. The principle that the courts should input
court results onto the Police National Computer is fully accepted,
and is a key element of planning, on an interdepartmental basis,
for joining up strategic systems across the Criminal Justice system,
under which results would be transferred automatically from court
systems to Phoenix. The Government notes the Committee's continued
support for the principle. Its achievement remains a priority
for the Government, and continues to receive close attention.
Options are under active consideration.
The operation of the Criminal Records Bureau
We welcome the decision that the Criminal Records
Bureau should run a pilot scheme before becoming fully operational.
This will give the Bureau the opportunity to refine its operation
so that applications are processed quickly and accurately (paragraph
We conclude that it is more important for the
Criminal Records Bureau to get it right when it does open than
for it to start operating in July 2001, its original starting
date (paragraph 44).
Effort should be concentrated on ensuring that
the Criminal Records Bureau will operate effectively when it starts,
rather than opening earlier and performing inadequately (paragraph
18. The Government welcomes the Committee's endorsement
of conclusions reached on these matters. The Government as a whole
has drawn key lessons from problems experienced with earlier major
IT programmes. The Criminal Records Bureau programme is not alone
in having benefited as a result.
19. But the Criminal Records Bureau remains a
challenging programme. The Government is determined that the Bureau
should operate to high service standards and that it should do
so from the outset.
20. IT systems will be thoroughly tested beforehand,
but it will nevertheless be sensible to pilot the entire service
in a controlled operational environment in order to ensure full
confidence before it is opened out to its customer base as a whole.
Current plans are for the pilot phase to commence in the autumn
and to run for a period of about 6 weeks.
We find it unacceptable that a body established
under legislation four years ago is not able to publish detailed
financial estimates in the way required of other agencies (paragraph
21. While the enabling legislation was passed
four years ago, it did not specifically establish the Criminal
Records Bureau, which is the means by which the Government has
decided to implement the legislation. Because it will be providing
a new service, predicting levels of demand is more problematical.
As already noted, this is a challenging programme and the Bureau
will operate within the framework of a Public Private Partnership.
The contract was awarded to the private sector partner in August
2000, following a rigorous tender process. Although that contract
established many of the cost elements, others have had to be finalised
since that time, including police costs and the Bureau's own staffing
costs (reflecting specific detailed arrangements which could be
settled only after the selection of the private sector partner
had been resolved).
22. At the time of giving evidence to the Committee,
it had not proved possible to finalise the fees regime. In the
circumstances, it was considered prudent not to quote partial,
or conditional, figures which might have been misleading.
23. But it has always been the intention that
the Criminal Records Bureau should publish corporate and business
plans, and annual reports. Indeed, the first such plan was produced
in April 2000, and placed in the Libraries of both Houses. The
Bureau will publish its new corporate and business plan shortly
and again copies will be placed in the Libraries.
24. It is anticipated that, when the issue of
standard and enhanced disclosures begins later in the current
financial year, demand will be at a low level initially, but will
build up. Basic disclosures will not begin to be issued before
the 2002/03 financial year. Cost and business projections have
been based on the following levels of demand during this and the
next financial year:
25. Estimated total revenues, and the estimated
total cost of operating the Criminal Records Bureau, during the
same two years are as follows:
|Estimated total revenues||12,655,727||63,430,902|
|Estimated total cost||48,277,786||80,425,047|
26. On the best information available, the Government
anticipates that, despite the low level of income initially, and
subject to the necessary Parliamentary authority, progressively
higher income will enable recovery of the full cost of establishing
and operating this new service to be achieved within a period
of five years.
1 May 2001
9 Official Report, 2 April 2001, col 69W. Back