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MP Chris Chope’s bill for volunteers shows how difficult reforms of CRB checks will be

Conservative MP Chris Chope has tabled a
private member’s bill that he thinks will solve the problem of potential
volunteers being deterred by the prospect of waiting for a criminal records
check.

The answer, he says, is simple: we should
ask volunteers to sign a “fit and proper person certificate” saying they have
no criminal record and no convictions. If they do this, he says, charities
should trust them – even if this means leaving them alone with children and
vulnerable people.

The simplicity of Chope’s system is
undoubtedly appealing. As he said in Parliament last week: “A person could
provide one [certificate] this week to volunteer for reading in London and
another next week to work with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.”

This simplicity has made it popular with
backbench Tories. Chope’s colleague Bob Stewart said during the debate on the
bill: “I want to take my children from school to sports matches, but I am told
by the school that I have to have a CRB check to take two or three people in my
car. I am hoping that this sort of red tape can be done away with.”

Civil society minister Nick Hurd, however,
was quick to point out that the bill made no provisions for checking that
volunteers were telling the truth on their certificates. The government opposed
the bill, he said, because “we think a basic level of protection and
independent verification of claims is necessary.”

But Chope’s idea, although unlikely to make
much progress, gives us an insight into the ways in which some MPs have
misunderstood the sector.

Chope said in Parliament that he got his
idea from the fit and proper persons test used by HMRC to prevent charity
fraud. He said the government was trusting individuals’ statements that they
were fit to run charities, then simply leaving them to get on with it. He seems
to have forgotten about the role of the Charity Commission, with its statutory
remit to monitor charities’ governance and investigate wrongdoing.

The debate about the bill shows what a
tough time Hurd and other ministers will have when it comes to reforming
criminal records checks, a process they are in the middle of at the moment.
Plenty of MPs and volunteers will think a simple system like Chope’s could, and
should, work. But finding a set-up that also provides reasonable protection for
the vulnerable will be almost impossible.