Outsourcing company Capita was 'dramatically' missing its targets for vetting teachers and social workers through the Criminal Records Bureau, admitted criminal justice minister Lord Falconer - and he told peers that if the problem was not sorted out 'we will have to examine legal remedies'.
He was responding to Labour's Lord Berkeley, who said this was merely the latest in a long list of alleged failures by Capita. 'How long will it continue before the government receive large penalty payments from the company? Is it possible to appoint another company in its place, or has it got the government over a barrel for five years', he asked.
Lord Falconer said Capita had had introduced revised procedures, was recruiting additional staff, increasing resources, and extending working hours. There was a special procedure for teachers.
The application backlog had been outsourced to Hays Plc's Chennai (India) data processing centre in Madras.
Lord Corbett asked whether Capita, a private company taking taxpayers' money to deliver an agreed level of service, would be fined for failing to do so. When was it expected the three week target time to process applications would be met so that local authorities and voluntary bodies could get the protection that the CRB was set up to provide, he added.
The minister said it was vital that CRB and Capita worked together to deliver the performance standard. Once that had been achieved it would be possible 'to determine the consequences are of not having met it before'.
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Lord Dholakia said the CRB was in a shambles. It took more than three months to carry out a criminal record check on people working in sensitive fields of childcare or teaching.
'That has a serious impact on applicants - particularly those working in the field of resettlement - employed in non-sensitive jobs', he added.
Lord Dholakia asked what would happen later in the year when not only will be required, but people would have to produce their records to employers. How could the government meet the target when full disclosure is required whether or not people were in sensitive jobs, he wondered.
Lord Falconer said government was working hard to ensure targets were met and a recovery plan had been agreed between the company and the CRB to try to meet those targets.
'I agree that in relation to teachers or anyone who works with either children or other vulnerable people, it is important that the check is made and that it is made within a reasonable time. That is what we are working towards. But we need time to get there', he added.
Conservative Baroness Anelay asked what guarantee there was of the integrity of the information being outsourced. If there was a slip up and information was not kept confidential, should an individual complain and bring a case - Capita or Hays, which controlled the system in Madras, she asked.
Lord Falconer said the material being sent to India was the application forms; it did not include the material which would be matched with the application forms,
'The application form involves people giving their name, address and the particular job that they are applying for and some other information. It does not include the information that comes from, for example, the national police computer', replied the minister.
'Having said all that, there are plainly security considerations. We have made checks to ensure that the levels of security are reasonable'.
Hansard 1 July 2002: Column 7-9