Criminal Records Bureau — Question
3:21 pm

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Lord Vinson (Conservative)

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many checks have been conducted by the Criminal Records Bureau since it was established, and at what total cost to applicants.

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Lord Henley (Conservative)

My Lords, the Criminal Records Bureau has issued more than 31 million certificates since its launch in March 2002 and has received more than £868 million in fees. The bureau does not hold any information to determine what portion of this cost has been paid by applicants, employers or other bodies.

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Lord Vinson (Conservative)

I thank the Minister for his very considered reply. Trust is the glue that holds society together. Is he aware that many organisations find that this staggering level of CRB checks is overdone, is disproportionate to the risk and is putting off good volunteers? As aggressive paedophilia is rare, and unlikely in the presence of others, will he reissue the sensible Home Office guidance on this matter and so help re-engender trust and good neighbourliness?

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Lord Henley (Conservative)

My Lords, my noble friend is right to draw attention to the importance of trust. He is also right to draw attention to the very high number of certificates that have been issued. This is a matter that we have been addressing in the course of the Protection of Freedoms Bill. I refer my noble friend to the impact assessment of last year on that Bill, which estimated that there would be a reduction of some 50 per cent in the number of such certificates being issued, dropping from about 3.7 million a year to something like 1.7 million. I think that is a step in the right direction.

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Baroness Deech (Crossbench)

Will the Minister be good enough to give the House his opinion of the effect that the following scenario will have on the outreach work carried out by this House? I invite a small group of A-level students to visit this House, as I have done before, to sit in the Chamber, to have tea and to take a small tour, and the teacher writes asking me please to confirm that I have had a CRB check.

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Lord Henley (Conservative)

Obviously, the noble Baroness is a most tremendous risk to the public and to children and I hope that she will consider these matters very carefully. No-that is what we want to address and it is the point of some of the changes we are making as a result of the Protection of Freedoms Bill. It is why we will keep these matters under review and it is why my right honourable friend the Home Secretary launched her initial review into these matters last year. I go back to the supplementary question of my noble friend Lord Vinson when he talked about trust being important. We think it is vital that people take a common-sense approach in these matters.

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Baroness Walmsley (Liberal Democrat)

When and in what way will the Government be communicating to the ISA and the police the statement that my noble friend made last week during the passage of the Protection of Freedoms Bill in response to the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Bichard: that the ISA can pass on to the police the information that has led to a discretionary bar so that the police can then use their discretion to release that information to a conscientious employer who requests it?

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Lord Henley (Conservative)

My Lords, the Bill has not completed its passage and it will obviously have to come back to this House after consideration of Lords amendments in another place. After completion, when we have had our last chance to discuss these matters, we will issue that guidance.

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Lord Harris of Haringey (Labour)

Further to that question, the noble Baroness suggested that it would be discretionary for the ISA to pass such information to the police. I had understood the Minister to say that his intention was for that information to be passed to the police automatically, so that they could use their discretion. Does he agree that having two sets of discretion in this area is likely to lead to individual cases falling through the net, which could be very damaging to the children who might subsequently be abused?

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Lord Henley (Conservative)

My Lords, I do not have the precise words that I used on that occasion, but the noble Lord is probably right to imply that we were offering discretion to the police.

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The Earl of Erroll (Crossbench)

What percentage of these certificates would reveal either a criminal record or information that would bar these people from working?

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Lord Henley (Conservative)

My Lords, I cannot answer that question, but I can say that in the 10 years in which this system has been running some 130,000 potentially unsuitable people have been prevented from working with children and vulnerable adults. The noble Earl can use that figure against the figure of 31 million and work out his own percentage.

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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Labour)

My Lords, can the noble Lord confirm that it is the Government's view that in general the establishment of CRB checks and the system that came from it was essential to ensure that vulnerable people are protected? Having said that, and coming back to the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, does he agree that part of the problem is overzealous interpretation by a number of organisations? Perhaps the Government's best efforts should be put into working with those organisations on guidance, information and education, so as their decisions on the number of people who need CRB checks might be more proportionate.

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Lord Henley (Conservative)

My Lords, I accept that it was necessary to bring in the CRB and these checks, but things had become out of proportion. That is why my right honourable friend announced her review and is why we want to scale things back to allow people to take proper responsibility for these matters. That is what we are trying to do, and it was what we were trying to do in the Protection of Freedoms Bill, but we will obviously keep these matters under review. If we can further scale down the checks without putting children or vulnerable adults at risk, we will do so.

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Lord Flight (Conservative)

My Lords, when I was at school, it was quite common for people to have school exchanges and stay with a family in France or Germany, pick up the language and learn a bit. These exchanges have virtually disappeared for the same reason that we have been hearing-checks have to be done on the families with whom the children will be staying. Does the Minister agree that this is yet another system that is over the top? Surely, the schools themselves can do checks on children's parents.

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Lord Henley (Conservative)

My right honourable friend brought in the review exactly because of those concerns-damage to exchange visits, volunteering and the like. That is why she conducted her review last year and is why we made changes during the course of the Protection of Freedoms Bill.

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Lord Marlesford (Conservative)

My Lords, will the Minister try to ensure that the Criminal Records Bureau focuses on areas of real priority? For example, does the bureau hold records of people's passports, including foreign passports? After all, if you want to stop someone on the watch list leaving or entering the country, it is quite useful to know what passports they hold, including foreign ones.

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Lord Henley (Conservative)

My Lords, without notice, I am not sure that I can answer my noble friend's question about passports, but I shall certainly offer to write to him in due course.