MP tables Volunteering Bill to replace Criminal Records Bureau checks

Christopher Chope says 'fit and proper person certificate' would remove barriers to volunteering, but critics raise concerns about risk

Houses of Parliament
Houses of Parliament

The Conservative MP Christopher Chope has tabled a private member's bill that would replace Criminal Records Bureau checks for volunteers with what it calls a "fit and proper person certificate", which would be a declaration by volunteers that they did not have any convictions.

The Volunteering Bill, which had its second reading in the Commons last week, would set up a new type of certificate that volunteers could present to any charity with which they were involved. Chope, the MP for Christchurch in Dorset, said it would remove a barrier to volunteering.

"An individual knows whether they have a criminal record, so they should be quite capable of signing a declaration of whether they do," he told MPs. "If they do not, and they sign a declaration to that effect, on the face of it that should be sufficient evidence that they are a fit and proper person to engage in volunteering activity."

Chope said he was aware there would be concern that his proposals would make it easier for criminals to gain access to vulnerable people, but this had to be balanced against the need to remove barriers to volunteering.

"If we are to have a responsible society, we have to trust people," he said. "However many controls and regulations we bring in, we cannot pre-empt the activities of fraudsters, villains, inherent, compulsive liars, paedophiles or whoever."

Nick Hurd, the Minister for Civil Society, said that the government opposed Chope’s bill. "For the proposed fit and proper person certificate to be successful, a means of independent verification and checking for accuracy would be required," he said.

"There is of course a balance to be struck between protection and trust, but we think a basic level of protection and independent verification of claims is necessary and believe that the CRB check fulfils that role, although we are very clear that it needs to be reformed."

Roberta Blackman-Woods, the shadow civil society minister, said: "It is not clear who, if anybody, would check the background of the people who signed the statement or what system would be in place to verify what they had stated.

"I appreciate that the intention may be to encourage people to volunteer, but this bill has neither the capacity nor the ability to do that; indeed, it actually introduces a serious element of risk into the system."

The Commons debate on the bill is due to resume on 17 June.

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