HC Deb 16 April 1964 vol 693 cc572-4
6. Mr. Dodds

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what consideration has been given to compiling a central register of missing persons from the local records kept by chief constables and from all other sources which would establish the numbers of deserting husbands or wives, which would safeguard the legal position of those deserted, or prove helpful to some to readjust their lives by removing uncertainty, and would assist coroners who, under present conditions, experience difficulties as a result of the present failure to identify many bodies.

Mr. Woodhouse

The Commissioner of Police maintains an index of persons believed to be missing in the Metropolitan Police District and this also contains details of missing persons notified to Scotland Yard by provincial police forces. These records are limited to missing children and young persons and to adults who have disappeared in circumstances which suggest that they may have come to some harm. An index of persons found wandering abroad and bodies found is also maintained at Scotland Yard and this is constantly checked with the missing persons index. My right hon. Friend is not convinced that any extension of the present system is either necessary or practicable.

Mr. Dodds

Is the Minister aware that for some years the Southwark coroner, Mr. Gordon Davies, has suggested, because of his experiences, that there is a need for a missing persons register on a national scale, which would no doubt help coroners to identify some of the bodies which so often go unidentified?

Mr. Woodhouse

I was not aware of the point that the hon. Member has made. I will certainly look into it. But at first sight I am not persuaded that a change is necessary. The records to which I have referred, coupled with the police arrangements, provide a very comprehensive facility, and to extend it further into the form of a central record would be a difficult and, I think, impracticable operation, as I can perhaps illustrate by informing the hon. Member that in the Metropolitan Police District alone about 18,000 persons were reported missing during 1963, the great majority of whom turned up again very shortly afterwards.

Sir J. Langford-Holt

Is there any obligation upon the various police forces to inform the Commissioner, with a view to having the names of missing persons included in the missing persons index? If not, can my hon. Friend assure us that the missing persons index is 100 per cent effective?

Mr. Woodhouse

I can never give an assurance that it is 100 per cent. effective, but there is co-operation between the provincial police forces and Scotland Yard in this matter.

Mr. S. Silverman

Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that the arrangements sometimes break down—that there was a recent case in which they notably broke down and that in the course of the subsequent inquiry the police themselves declared that it was not their policy to treat as missing persons people who may merely have gone away because of some domestic dispute? if that is so, is it not rather idle to say that sample facilities exist to meet such cases as my hon. Friend has described?

Mr. Woodhouse

I think that I can identify the case to which the hon. Member is referring. As my right hon. Friend informed the House on 25th March, the Metropolitan Police procedure for dealing with missing persons has been revised in the light of that case.

Mr. Dodds

On a point of order. I beg to give notice that I shall raise this matter on the Adjournment as soon as possible.

Mr. Speaker

It may be difficult because of tonight's Adjournment. I shall have to consider it.