The bureau - to be self-financing under the management of the UK Passport Agency and based in Merseyside creating up to 1,200 jobs - will carry out criminal record checks and issue certificates for employment purposes.
It is established under Part V of the Police Act 1997 which, for the first time, will allow employers to ask prospective employees or volunteers to apply for a criminal record check.
At present, criminal record checks are carried out by the police and mostly limited to the employees of statutory bodies, for example, health and local authorities, schools and probation services, who work with under-18s.
Mr Straw said:
'Dangerous people need to be stopped from working with children and young people.
'The creation of a Criminal Records Bureau is an important step towards achieving this.
'We are also fulfilling our commitment set out in the government's response to the Utting report.
'The bureau will extend the current system of vetting to the private and voluntary sector. It will also permit checks for the first time on those caring for vulnerable adults.
'There will be safeguards to protect civil liberties and the rights of ex-offenders under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 will be maintained.
'I am confident that the UK Passport Agency's proven track record in delivery of a large application driven service will make the Criminal Records Bureau a success.'
It is estimated that it will take two years to establish the Bureau during which time there will be wide consultation with user groups, such as the voluntary sector and trade unions, to ensure that its operation will meet the needs of the community it serves.
There are three different levels of criminal record check and related certificates under the Act. They are:
- A criminal conviction certificate will be issued only to individuals who will be able to choose whether to show it to employers. The certificate will show all convictions held at national level which are not 'spent' under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 but will not show 'spent' convictions or cautions;
- A criminal record certificate will be available to people working in areas exempted under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. It would be available to people who have regular contact with the under-18s, the elderly, sick or handicapped people; those involved in the administration of the law (eg police officers); and others employed in other sensitive areas and professions. The certificate will include details of convictions, including convictions 'spent' under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, and cautions held at national level;
- An enhanced criminal record certificate will be available for those applying for positions which involve regular caring for, training, supervising or being in sole charge of under-18s, for certain statutory licensing purposes (eg gaming and lotteries licences) and for those being considered for judicial appointments. Like the criminal record certificate, this certificate will contain information on 'spent' and 'unspent' convictions and cautions held at national level but, in addition, will include information from local police records including relevant non-conviction information. It could also be made available for those caring for vulnerable adults.
The three certificates will be phased in over a period of years to ensure a smooth transition from the current arrangements.
However, top priority will be given to the issue of certificates for those seeking positions which involve regularly caring for, training, supervising or being in sole charge of under-18s.
Any employer will be able to ask a job applicant to produce a criminal conviction certificate. It would be up to the applicant whether to provide it.
In order for an employer to ask for a more detailed check and receive a criminal record certificate or enhanced criminal record certificate it would need to be registered with the Bureau and have the consent of the job applicant.
Applicants for certificates (the individual, not employer) will pay, depending on the level of check, between five and ten pounds.