`Employers will misuse job checks' will

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THE GOVERNMENT was accused yesterday by one of its own watchdogs of planning a culture of "criminal record checking" that would make large sections of the population unemployable.

Lord Haskins, who chairs the Better Regulation Task Force, said that Home Office plans to give employers access to a new Criminal Records Bureau could destroy the job prospects of many people from deprived backgrounds.

The Labour peer and chairman of Northern Foods commented: "Given that a third of all males have been convicted of a non-traffic offence by the age of 40 - and millions more have received a caution - a `checking culture' could easily result in large numbers of people being unnecessarily excluded from work."

In a report that will infuriate Home Office ministers, the task force questioned the way the Government has responded to public concerns about people with criminal histories applying for jobs such as mini-cab driving, nannying and nightclub security. Home Office plans for regulating such occupations could lead to many people being "unfairly excluded" from such jobs because of previous convictions that had no relevance, said the report.

"Arguments that those who have had [security] alarms installed may be at risk of burglary through unscrupulous installers do not appear to be supported by evidence," it said.

Lord Haskins said the Government was in danger of "over-regulating" in an unrealistic attempt to create a risk-free society. "It's not for the state to decide who is a reliable installer of burglar alarms and who is not," he commented.

He added that it was "very much in the public interest to have more male primary school teachers" to act as good role models for boys, but warned that many good potential recruits might be excluded because of an irrelevant conviction.

The watchdog - set up as an independent body to advise the Government on regulation issues - cited research by the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, which showed that most employers would not hire anyone with a criminal record.

"Many individuals who acquire criminal records for petty offences during their teens will have matured and grown out of such behaviour by their mid or late twenties," it said.

Although the task force welcomed the setting up of a Criminal Records Bureau, it said the use of checks by employers should be carefully limited to jobs where there is a risk to vulnerable people. It pointed out that current Home Office estimates suggested that the bureau would carry out 12 million checks a year.

The task force said the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act should be reviewed to simplify categories of disclosable offences and rehabilitation periods and to delete cautions from criminal records.

The watchdog also called for unofficial local authority blacklists, based on suspicions of criminality, to be outlawed and transferred to accountable national registers with a means of appeal and with evidence tested against clear criteria.