HC Deb 04 November 2002 vol 392 cc102-4W
Mr. Dismore

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps the Government is taking to ensure that the Criminal Records Bureau delivers an effective service to its customers. [77742]

Mr. Blunkett

The Government is committed to the delivery of an effective service for undertaking pre-employment criminal record checks for people working with children and vulnerable adults. The Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) has not so far been able to provide a satisfactory service.

A number of steps have already been taken to improve the CRB's performance. In May an initial service improvement plan was put in place. As a result the number of disclosures issued by the CRB has increased from an average of 24,500 per week in August to an average of 39,500 per week in the three weeks ending 26 October. The CRB has now issued 541,000 disclosures.

In addition, in September I announced the appointment of an independent team, led by Patrick Carter, to take a fundamental look at the strategy and operations of the CRB and its private-sector partner, Capita. The team will be looking to identify the longer-term changes in the way the CRB operates to ensure that it can meet the demand both for the standard and enhanced disclosures already in place and the basic disclosures to be introduced in due course.

I expect the independent team to report to me with their conclusions and recommendations by the end of the year. It is likely, however, to require a period of months before any system changes necessary to deliver the required step change in the CRB's output can be fully implemented. In the meantime it is expected that there will be a gradual improvement in performance through the ongoing service improvement plan.

In the interim, we need to take steps to ensure that the demand for disclosures is in line with the CRB's current ability to process the applications. I have therefore agreed with my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Health, and for Education and Skills a number of measures to defer the existing or proposed requirement on certain occupations or office holders to obtain a CRB disclosure.

Persons caring for children and vulnerable adults will, as now, continue to be subject to rigorous pre-employment checks, including confirming previous employment history and taking up references, to ensure their suitability for the position in question. All those occupations which were subject to a criminal record check prior to the advent of the CRB will continue to be subject to such a check.

The details of the measures are set out as follows:

Care Homes The care homes regulations (relating to care homes for adults) currently require CRB checks for existing staff—that is, those employed to work in a care home immediately before 1 April 2002—to be completed by 31 March 2003. The Government will be amending the regulations to extend this time limit. Existing care home staff will now be required to obtain a CRB check during the course of 2004. New care homes staff will continue to be required to have CRB checks, as will registered providers and managers of care homes. Nurses agencies and domiciliary care agencies Nurses supplied by nurses agencies, and staff supplied by domiciliary care agencies, will not be required to have CRB checks for the time being. The Department of Health will still be going ahead with the introduction of the nurses agency and domiciliary care agency regulations to come into effect in February 2003, but without the requirement for CRB checks. Staff will be required to provide a statement that they have no criminal convictions, or to provide a statement of any criminal convictions that they do have. The CRB check requirements will however, apply to registered providers and managers of nurses agencies and domiciliary care agencies. Some nurses agencies are already having to comply with requirements for CRB checks, which stem from the care homes regulations and the private and voluntary health care regulations which are already in place. These require checks to be made before temporary staff can be placed in those settings. These requirements have been in place since April 2002, and are not being removed. Other Department of Health regulations There will be no change to other regulations under the Care Standards Act 2000. Furthermore, none of these measures affect the requirements of those working with children to have a Protection of Children Act list check and the checks required by the Children's Homes Regulations and the Fostering Services Regulations. It is planned that regulations on residential family centres and adoption agencies will come into effect, with CRB check requirements, in February and April 2003 respectively. In addition, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health has agreed to postpone the implementation of the Protection of Vulnerable Adults list provided for the Care Standards Act. All these arrangements are designed to avoid having regulations in place which cannot be complied with by providers. The Government recognises the importance of criminal records checks but at the same time providers must not be prevented from operating. Care homes have to be able to continue to employ existing staff, and we believe that domiciliary care agencies and nurses agencies should not be prevented from being able to place staff because they have not obtained checks. The regulations and national minimum standards, even with the CRB check requirements, will still be a significant factor in driving up standards and protecting service users. Among other things, they will cover the way the organisation is run, recruitment procedures, staffing arrangements, user feedback, information for service users, all of which are part of a system to protect vulnerable people. School Governors School governors will not be required to have CRB checks for the time being. The Department for Education and Skills will still be going ahead with the introduction of the School Governance (Constitution) regulations to come into effect in April 2003, but without the requirement for CRB checks. The Government remains committed to introducing CRB checks in these areas at the earliest possible opportunity. The Home Office, in conjunction with the Department of Health for Education and Skills, will be issuing detailed guidance to Registered Bodies about the implications of the above measures. The three Departments will continue to work with their partners and the CRB as the situation develops.