Youth Workers Agency

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 20th February 1997.

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Photo of Mr Andrew Rowe Mr Andrew Rowe , Kent Mid 12:00 am, 20th February 1997

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what estimate he has made of the cost of (a) establishing and (b) running for 12 months the proposed agency for recording and divulging information on the records of people who wish to work with young people. [15282]

Photo of Mr Timothy Kirkhope Mr Timothy Kirkhope The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

It is our intention that the Criminal Records Agency will be self-financing. We intend to recoup the costs of setting up and running the agency by charging applicants for criminal record certificates a very modest fee.

Photo of Mr Andrew Rowe Mr Andrew Rowe , Kent Mid

While I accept the Government's good intentions and welcome the setting up of the register, does my hon. Friend agree that one of the objectives of the "make a difference" initiative is to make it easier for volunteers to come from classes other than those that are well off? New recruits will be put off volunteering if we say, "Thank you so much for volunteering, but it will cost you £10 before you even begin." Will my hon. Friend look closely at that matter and see what he can do?

Photo of Mr Timothy Kirkhope Mr Timothy Kirkhope The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I know how concerned and interested my hon. Friend is in voluntary agencies. It is as a result of the Government's wish to see voluntary agencies prosper and for those involved in their work to be certain of the security of others involved that we have set about establishing the agency. The fees concerned are extremely modest: £5 for a basic certificate and £8 or £10 for an enhanced certificate—for instance, when young children are involved, which seems reasonable. I should like to be able to offer my hon. Friend greater comfort. We have agreed to table an amendment to the Police Bill, which will have an order-making power so that, when financial circumstances allow, we can revisit the matter with a view to giving assistance where necessary.

Photo of Mr Gerry Bermingham Mr Gerry Bermingham , St Helens South

Does the Minister recall that some years ago we started setting up a national criminal records computer? I do not know how far that got or whether it was ever brought fully into play. If it is fully in play—I see the Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), nodding—we already have the source. Surely it is not beyond the wit of a prospective volunteer to go into a police station and obtain a certificate of no known convictions. In that way, no charge would be payable.

Photo of Mr Timothy Kirkhope Mr Timothy Kirkhope The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

All such matters have cost implications. We want a national agency to be available to help the private and voluntary sector, in particular. It is true that there is a possibility of information being available through the public sector, but because of incidents that have unfortunately occurred too often recently in the voluntary and private sector, it is essential that protection should be available on a national basis to organisations that want to obtain it. We believe that the agency will be extremely helpful in giving security of mind to parents and others concerned with the work of voluntary bodies.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier , Canterbury

I welcome that important step forward in protecting the nation's children. Will my hon. Friend confirm that he is also giving sympathetic consideration to the needs of the other key group affected—organisations which cater for adults with learning difficulties?

Photo of Mr Timothy Kirkhope Mr Timothy Kirkhope The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

We are bringing in an amendment to ensure, as my hon. Friend said, that those who care and have responsibility for vulnerable adults will also be able to benefit from the agency.

Photo of Martin Smyth Martin Smyth , Belfast South

I share the Minister's desire for procedures that will offer protection, but I am not happy with the answers given on an earlier occasion, which suggested that charitable bodies will be first in line. They will be subject to double taxation: not only has their income been reduced by the lottery, but they are to be charged for these warrants. I ask that further consideration be given before the proposal is implemented.

Photo of Mr Timothy Kirkhope Mr Timothy Kirkhope The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

It is individuals, rather than organisations, who would be asked to make a small investment. That is not to say that organisations that can afford to assist would not do so, but it is the responsibility of individuals. Had we resourced the entire list of organisations in the sector, the cost might have been anything up to several hundred million pounds. We shall review the position when resources allow and consider particularly vulnerable areas for assistance.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton , Macclesfield

Does my hon. Friend accept that it is essential for adults to come forward to help with youth organisations, and that that has been of great benefit as it brings together young and old? Does he accept that society as a whole should pay for the proposed agency through taxation? I do not wish in any way to deter people from coming forward to help in a voluntary capacity with the entire range of youth organisations, and I am sure that that view is shared by Members on both sides of the House.

Photo of Mr Timothy Kirkhope Mr Timothy Kirkhope The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

If I thought that the sum of £5 would deter large numbers of volunteers, my hon. Friend would of course be right. We believe, however, that that is a modest sum to find. We do not want to deter volunteers. The Government are playing their part in bringing forward proposals for the agency which we think are overdue and will work well.