Charles Clarke (Home Secretary; Norwich South, Labour)
The Government have been working hard over a number of years to ensure that those who have either been convicted of sexual offences or who are believed to have been engaged in them are not permitted to work with children.
We set up the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) in 2002, which has significantly improved the vetting of people working with children and vulnerable adults. It has carried out 8 million disclosures since its inception and in 2005 over 20,000 people in total were refused employment as the result of a CRB check. Since September 1997, we have required individuals convicted of or cautioned for certain sexual offences to notify the police of their personal details and to update them regularly, placing them on what is commonly known as the sex offenders register. That has ensured the police know of their whereabouts. In 2003, we revised these requirements and overhauled the legislation covering sexual offending and last year we launched the violent and sex offenders register, which now contains information on around 50,000 people, of whom the vast majority are convicted offenders.
Sir Michael Bichard produced his report on the Soham murders in June 2004. Since then, we have been driving forward a complex and ambitious programme of work to implement all of his 31 recommendations. So far, 13 have been implemented in full or in part and work is progressing on giving effect to the rest, as set out in the progress report I gave to the House on
ensuring since February last year that the Criminal Records Bureau has had access to the Interim Police Local Cross-Check System (I-PLX);
extending this facility to all 43 forces' Child Abuse Investigation Units through the IMPACT nominal index, enabling them to identify which other forces hold information about a specific individual;
improving police information management nationally by bringing a new statutory code of practice into effect in November 2005. That will ensure best practice and consistency of standards across England and Wales and implementation will be underpinned by detailed operational guidance, which will come into effect this spring;
improving the quality of data on the police national computer, as Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary have embedded the monitoring of the timely input and quality of all forces' data into their baseline assessments.
We have also made improvements to the Criminal Records Bureau's vetting procedures. These include:
implementing a quality assurance framework in partnership with the police service which standardises disclosure processes across all forces;
the CRB's issue of revised guidance to all registered bodies, strengthening the disclosure application processes;
enabling the CRB to access information from a wider range of appropriate data sources to strengthen further the vetting regime.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills is driving forward the recommendations which fall to her Department, in consultation with others, as appropriate. These include:
establishing a new integrated vetting and barring scheme, together with the enabling legislative framework,
rolling out on-line training of head teachers and governors in those child protection issues which arise as part of recruitment and selection procedures.
In the light of recent events, the Home Office has discussed with the Association of Chief Police Officers what more might be done to ensure the Department for Education and Skills are informed as soon as information linking an individual to a sexual offence comes to light, if that individual is thought to be working with children. I am writing today to all chief constables, to the Prison and Probation Services and to the Youth Justice Board, to restate how the current system works, the way in which it is changing and the priority the Government attach to the protection of children.
However, the key to avoiding the risk of recruiting unsuitable individuals to work with children lies in the employer undertaking the appropriate checks through the CRB, whose disclosure service will reveal any criminal conviction, caution or reprimand which has led to the person being made subject to sex offenders registration. It will also allow chief constables the opportunity to disclose that someone is on the sex offenders register in appropriate cases. That is why my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Education and Skills is today announcing that those checks will in future be a mandatory requirement.