§ Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire) (Con) (urgent question)
To ask the Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety to make a statement on the completeness of police national computer records in the light of the Soham murder case.
§ The Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety(Ms Hazel Blears)
The whole House will join me in expressing our sympathy with the families of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman. We cannot imagine the pain that they must be suffering, but we can work together to ensure that lessons are learned from the girls' murders
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary yesterday announced an independent inquiry led by Sir Michael Bichard. That inquiry will look into child protection procedures in Humberside police and Cambridgeshire constabulary. It will assess the effectiveness of the relevant intelligence-based record keeping, the vetting practices in those forces since 1995 and information sharing with other agencies. Importantly, it will report to the Home Secretary on matters of local and national relevance and make any recommendations it believes appropriate.
It is right that it should be Sir Michael Bichard who provides an authoritative answer on whether the completeness of police national computer records had a significant impact on the Soham case. I am sure the House will agree that I should not prejudge that independent inquiry. However, I can say that the speed and quality with which police forces record information on the police national computer has been the subject of a sustained focus by Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary in recent years.
A year-long inspection that ran in two phases from March 2001 to April 2002 was not encouraging. It found poor business processes, exacerbated by the lack of a national IT solution. The backlog of unentered case results was mainly due to the absence of strategic prioritisation of the issue and the failure to allocate sufficient people to the task. As a result of that inspection, the HMIC managed and monitored a yearlong programme of work in every force to improve performance. That has covered two areas. The first is arrest and summons reports, which initiate a new record. The target is for 90 per cent. of reports to be logged on to the system within 24 hours. Some 79 per cent. of cases in England and 76 per cent. of cases in Wales are meeting that target. The second relates to court results. Police forces are measured against a target of 90 per cent. of court results being inputted on to the police national computer within seven days. At the moment, 38 per cent. of cases in England and 30 per cent. of cases in Wales are meeting that target, with 80 per cent. of cases reaching it within 28 days.
Forces have worked hard with the inspectorate to improve the situation. As a result, every force improved its performance and some were at, or near to, the nationally agreed targets. However, both the inspectorate and the Home Secretary are clear that many police forces must do a lot better to reach the standards that we are entitled to expect. To ensure that 1722 improvements are being made and properly tracked, a new team has been established in HMIC to audit and monitor forces' performance and intervene where necessary on a targeted basis.
Further action has also been undertaken by the Association of Chief Police Officers, which has set up a group to pursue the implementation of the other recommendations in the HMIC report. Paramount among those is the development of a statutory code of practice under powers put in place under the Police Reform Act 2002. That will set standards for forces in relation to the timeliness of inputting. A draft has been produced and is out for consultation. The consultation ends in January, and our aim is that the code should be in place by next April. In parallel, we are working with the Court Service on a joint document to set out escalation processes to deal with problem cases should they arise.
We have made very considerable progress in recent years in trying to ensure that vetting is effective and thorough, but we know that the Criminal Records Bureau can only be as good as the data available to it. That is why our ongoing work with police forces to ensure that the police national computer is kept up to date is so important. I assure the House that the inspectorate will continue to drive improvement in those forces that are not meeting their targets and that any further recommendations that Sir Michael Bichard makes will be dealt with speedily. The House and the people of this country would expect nothing less.
§ Mr. Paice
I thank the Minister for her statement and for her kind words about my constituents, the families of the two little girls. Through her, I thank the Home Secretary for his promptness in setting up the inquiry headed by Sir Michael Bichard into the effectiveness of the vetting practices carried out by the Cambridgeshire and Humberside forces.
My constituents in Soham, as well as parents throughout the country, are angry and horrified that a man with so many allegations against him came through the process apparently without criticism, and they wonder why no charges were brought when so many victims are now describing their experiences. Although the inquiry must be thorough and effective, will the Minister tell the House when she expects it to be able to report?
Will the inquiry investigate allegations that the Data Protection Act 1998 and even perhaps the Human Rights Act 1998 have prevented Humberside police from keeping or passing on relevant information, and the counter-statement by the registrar that that is not the case? Will the inquiry also consider the present Criminal Records Bureau operations and its system of checking people for work with children? In particular, is it still possible for someone who changes their name to circumvent the checks?
Has the Minister, as I have done, looked at the forms used by the CRB and seen how easy it would still be for someone of evil intent to evade detection? Is she satisfied that the quality control of work carried out by the CRB, including in Bombay, is adequate? Will she instigate, as one of her hon. Friends has suggested, random sampling to check the rigour of the CRB system?
On the police national computer itself, is the Minister aware that, on 3 February this year, her predecessor, the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen 1723 (Mr. Denham), answered a written question from me on this very subject? At column 72W of the Official Report he said that, in the period to December last year, police forces took 71 days on average to enter all court disposals on to the database, against a target of what he then said was three days. The Minister said in her answer that the target was now seven days. Can she explain the discrepancy?
Will the Minister publish the report, which was apparently leaked yesterday, that suggested, according to the media, including the BBC, that the situation is getting worse rather than better? Will she explain why it was necessary to leak the report rather than publishing it in the interests of transparency, especially in the light of another answer that the right hon. Gentleman gave me on 30 October last year which, I am afraid flies in the face of what the Minister just told us when she said that the situation was very bad a year ago? The then Minister said:The Inspectorate's first report showed considerable progress. Its second report, on the programme overall, which indicates substantial further progress, is under consideration.—[Official Report, 30 October 2002; Vol. 391, c. 846W.]
Yet the Minister has just told us that, in fact, the situation was not showing any improvement at all. Can she explain how much of the delay in entering data on to the computer is caused by the courts not meeting their targets for notifying forces, and how much by forces not entering the data once they have received them? Is it not obvious that no vetting process can be effective if records are two months out of date? If, a year ago, the situation was apparently improving—as the then Minister told me—why does it seem that it has not got better since?
The tragic and evil events that occurred in my constituency have struck a chord with people all over the country and abroad. Although we can never eliminate risk, it is essential that we ensure that those who work with our children do so with our trust. Will the Minister promise the House that Sir Michael Bichard's report will be published in full, and that whatever needs to be changed—people, systems or laws—it will be done?
§ Ms Blears
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said yesterday when he announced the inquiry that he wanted it to be completed speedily, particularly so that it does not cause further distress to the families, who have already gone through such a terrible time. My interpretation of "speedily" is a time scale of three to six months. Clearly, that will be a matter for Sir Michael Bichard in terms of his findings, but I want the matter to be dealt with as speedily as possible so that we can learn the lessons from what has happened.
The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) asked whether the data protection legislation has inhibited the ability of forces to collect data and use them properly in the vetting process. I assure the House that the data protection legislation does not inhibit that process. The Data Protection Act 1998 provides that information should not be kept longer than is necessary, which requires forces, as it does all of us, to exercise a degree of judgment and professionalism in how they use data and how they deal 1724 with data in their system. There are requirements whereby data that relate to offences for which there has been imprisonment for more than six months, or to any kind of sexual or violent offences, should be retained. A detailed framework therefore exists in which information can be used properly while complying with the provisions of the Data Protection Act. Certainly, I do not see those provisions as a bar.
In terms of the assurance of the process, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have been very concerned since the establishment of the Criminal Records Bureau, and in all the measures that we have taken subsequently, to ensure the integrity of its record keeping. We have wanted to drive performance not just in terms of timeliness but in terms of the quality of the results obtained. Every Member will appreciate that the Criminal Records Bureau has made significant progress. It had a difficult beginning, but the current process is much better. There is an ongoing consultation not just in relation to fees but in relation to the issue that that the hon. Gentleman raised about quality assurance: whether we can put more checks in place to ensure that we get the identity of the person correct when an application for a disclosure is submitted. We will look very carefully at the results of that consultation to see whether we can provide more quality assurance on that issue.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the discrepancy between the seven-day target and the original three-day target. I understand that courts are given three days to pass such information to the police, who then have three days to put it on to the computer. Occasionally, I suppose, one of those days will be on a weekend, which explains why they are measured against a seven-day period.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether the Bichard report will be published. I can undertake that that report will be published and will be available. It will be important that we all look at it closely and learn the lessons from it.
The hon. Gentleman also raised the important issue—one that I raised myself with my officials—of what would happen in relation to a delay if information were not on the computer. We are dealing with two separate sets of information: convictions, which would be on the police national computer, and local intelligence. Many of the issues in the Huntley case concern local intelligence. Because there were no convictions, the incidents would not have found their way on to the police national computer in the first place. It is vital that forces have that local intelligence and that when someone applies for an enhanced disclosure from the Criminal Records Bureau, they access local intelligence as well as convictions, so there should be a rounded mix.
As for the delay that the hon. Gentleman properly raised, 80 per cent. of cases are now getting on to the computer within a reasonable period of time—within 28 days—but when people apply for an enhanced disclosure they also get access to the arrests and summons that have not yet been entered. There ought to be sufficient checks in the system to ensure that there is no loophole through which people can go. I hope that the inquiry will look searchingly at those matters to ensure that the integrity and robustness of the whole system can be maintained. I give the hon. Gentleman an 1725 assurance and undertaking that the recommendations and lessons from the inquiry and the separate but parallel inquiry into child protection measures launched by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills will inform the way in which we proceed.
§ Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD)
May I ask the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) to pass on our condolences to the families of the victims, as well as the whole community that he represents?
I welcome the inquiry. I hope that it will be thorough and speedy, and will take three, rather than six, months, if at all possible. I agree with the Minister that it is premature to point the finger of blame at individuals at this stage for what may be human error. Nevertheless, does she agree that there are clear signs of systemic failures in intelligence, data systems and media strategy? Given the catastrophic misunderstanding of the requirements of the Information Commissioner and the laws of data protection, will the Minister give me an assurance that, this very afternoon, as a matter of urgency, Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary will issue guidance in accordance with the commissioner's requirements to every police force about their responsibilities?
Data inputting into the police national computer has been a matter of concern for some time. The Minister explained what she is doing about the timeliness of inputting, but can she say something about accuracy, which is of equal concern? If people put rubbish in the system, they get rubbish out. Will there be an audit of the accuracy of information held on the police national computer? Will she confirm the answer that she gave my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Mrs. Brooke) on 8 December that 20 per cent. of employers and organisations using the Criminal Records Bureau have refused to employ an individual as a result? That is a remarkably high figure.
On police operations, is the Minister satisfied with the system of mutual aid for small forces? I understand that, in Cambridgeshire, 300 officers from other forces were injected into the investigation at an early stage—that cannot but cause confusion in command and intelligence. Finally, has she had any indications that the police authorities in Humberside and Cambridgeshire are inquiring into the conduct of their senior officers?
§ Ms Blears
I can certainly confirm the importance of the speediness of the inquiry. I am concerned to make sure that we get on with it as quickly as possible.
As for system failures, they will be an essential part of Michael Bichard's investigation. I would not want to prejudge the issues in relation to Humberside and Cambridgeshire, as those are matters for the inquiry. However, the hon. Gentleman raised the important issue of systemic failures as well as individual culpability, and I am sure that those matters will be fully and properly explored. He asked whether HMIC can issue guidance this afternoon on information sharing. I cannot give an undertaking that that will happen this afternoon, but I acknowledge his right and proper call for urgent clarification. We shall certainly make sure that every force is aware of the legal position and the interaction of various bits of legislation. We must give them a firm foundation for the action that they take.
1726 The hon. Gentleman has again raised the issues of quality assurance and audit. As I said in my statement, a new team has been set up in HMIC, and we have considerably strengthened its capacity to audit the way in which forces are complying. For me, that is just as important in respect of quality as in respect of timeliness. Much of the information recorded by the CRB is very detailed and includes the colour of people's eyes and their distinguishing features. A previous audit showed that the information in relation to convictions is robust, but questions remain about the quality of some of the fine detail that is recorded. It is important for operational purposes that the police have that fine detail about eye colour, height and distinguishing features, and I am pleased to assure the hon. Gentleman that it was found that the PNC database's information on convictions was entirely accurate in more than 94 per cent. of cases. A previous report found that 85 per cent. of records contained errors or omissions but, as I said, those can be matters of very fine detail. The issue is important, and I do not want to underestimate it, but 94 per cent. of convictions records are entirely accurate, and we should be aware of that.
The hon. Gentleman asked about people being refused employment. It was stated that 20 per cent. of people came into that category and, as far as we are aware, that is correct. One reason why questions about data protection have arisen is that the commissioner has been involved in a couple of cases in which very old convictions—incurred in what some may consider innocuous circumstances—have remained on file at the CRB. People have complained that they have been denied employment because of events that happened a long time ago. An example might be a schoolyard fight between two fairly young people that would have no bearing on any job being sought. That is one reason why the retention of information has become such a current issue.
We must always aim at getting the right balance in these matters. People have genuine concerns about privacy and the information that is held on them, but the public interest is served by the Government having access to as much information as possible. The spectrum between individuals retaining absolute privacy and the public interest is a matter that we in this House discuss time and again in relation to access to data. This is another example of the tensions that arise as we try to strike the right balance between private protection and public interest. I have no doubt that Sir Michael's inquiry will drill down into some of those important issues.
§ Mr. Shaun Woodward (St. Helens, South) (Lab)
The Bichard inquiry may make various recommendations on data protection, human rights, the collection of information, local intelligence and so on, but they will only be as good as the degree of certainty that individuals are matched to the intelligence held on them. Whatever difficulties may arise in respect of civil liberties, does my hon. Friend agree that it would be a good idea for the Bichard inquiry to consider whether identity cards could have ensured that Huntley was 1727 unable to use an alternative identity? That he did so was clearly a deliberate attempt to prevent the police from putting together information about him.
§ Ms Blears
My hon. Friend makes an important point. The terms of reference are wide enough to allow Sir Michael to consider recommendations that he might want to apply nationally. We have recently had some good debates about the growth of the use of biometric information in connection with a range of identifiers for passports, driving licences and so on. We want to get as much information as we can to ensure that people who apply under the CRB procedures or who are on the PNC are who they say they are. That is a fundamental requirement for the integrity of the system as a whole.
§ Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con)
Serious lessons from this case need to he learned, for child protection and for the forthcoming children's legislation, in which we hear that it is proposed to give identity numbers to 11 million children, only some of whom will be vulnerable. That provision will be greatly diluted if we do not have proper intelligence on the potential perpetrators of abuse and crimes against children. From what the Minister said, there is clearly confusion about how intelligence can be shared. She thinks that the guidelines are clear, but the police are confused about how they should be used. Conviction information may be readily available, but local intelligence needs to be shared properly--that is the key to better measures to combat child abuse. As a matter of urgency, will she ensure that it is made absolutely clear what intelligence about potential abusers--many of whom will have no criminal record—can be shared between the proper agencies dealing with child protection? Will she ensure that those findings are fed into the new children's legislation as soon as possible, so that children are protected and we can get better intelligence about the potential perpetrators of violence against them?
§ Ms Blears
That is clearly an important part of our considerations. The hon. Gentleman will know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills announced a serious case review by the North East Lincolnshire area child protection committee. One of its terms of reference is to look specifically at how multi-agency working might be improved. Essential to that is the sharing of information. All of us who look at these matters now appreciate that we cannot get the results that we want if we work in silos. Coming, together and sharing information is the best way to protect children and make services more effective.
It concerns me that the data protection legislation can be prayed in aid so that information is not shared as much as I should like. The adoption of proper protocols and safeguards will help to achieve the data protection aims and allow information to be shared. The evidence for that is the fact that police forces and local authorities around the country share information effectively. One of the challenges for the Government is to clarify for people that it is safe and lawful to share information, and to encourage best practice in that respect. The issue is very current and important for us. Clearly, we will 1728 take on board any recommendations in the Bichard review that we should do more or change the law. The practice is not widespread, but in some areas the data protection legislation is sometimes used as a blanket inhibition on multi-agency work. It should not be used in that way.
§ Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab)
I welcome the statement by my hon. Friend that she is preparing a statutory code of practice on data entry into the police national computer. Will she confirm that that will be the first time that intervention powers in the Police Reform Act 2002 have been used to ensure that police performance is brought up to standard? She has implied already that, if things had worked properly, the only charge to appear on the PNC would have been the burglary charge, and that the other allegations would not have appeared. Can she assure me that people such as school caretakers, who are not defined legally as caring for children or being in charge of them, will none the less be subject in future to the enhanced disclosure procedures? If she cannot do that, will she ask Sir Michael Bichard to look at whether enhanced disclosure needs to be extended to those who work closely with, and have access to, children, even though those people are not caring for them or in charge of them?
§ Ms Blears
I am happy to confirm that Centrex has been working on preparing the statutory code of practice in this matter. I understand that it is not the first time that a code has been prepared, as a statutory code on the use of firearms by police was issued a few weeks ago. However, my right hon. Friend is right to say that the powers under the Police Reform Act are new and innovative, and I know that he played a fundamental part in taking that legislation through the House. The code of practice will be a great help to us.
My right hon. Friend asked whether a person applying to be a school caretaker would be required to obtain enhanced disclosure. That is important, but the requirements for enhanced disclosure apply to people who are regularly involved in caring for, training or supervising children, and to those who have sole charge of children. I understand that the Department for Education and Skills considers that caretakers would be required to undertake enhanced disclosure, as they can take the role of supervising children.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con)
Police records are never going to be wholly complete or up to date, so does the Minister agree that those who want to employ people in jobs that entail sensitive proximity to children would be well advised also to seek and follow up references in the traditional manner?
§ Ms Blears
The right hon. and learned Gentleman makes a reasonable, common-sense point. Criminal Records Bureau checks can only ever be one part of the jigsaw. Any sensible employer who is seeking to employ people in positions of sensitivity—whether it is around children or vulnerable adults, or with access to huge amounts of money—will obtain and follow up references in the normal course of that employment process. I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for reminding us that the Criminal Records Bureau is only one part of a much wider picture.
1729 While I am on my feet, I should give some clarification to the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), who asked whether 20 per cent. of people had been refused employment as a result of CRB checks. In a recent survey, one in five employers said that they had used the information in order to refuse employment—the figure therefore relates to one in five organisations, not one in five applicants.
§ Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab)
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct that the data protection laws are often prayed in aid unreasonably. Agencies are far too cautious and records are destroyed. In this case, it appears—I use that word very carefully because we only know about some of the evidence—that there was a local newspaper report, which was shown on television last night, about a previous charge, but the police did not have adequate records of it. I join the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) in asking that, as a matter of urgency, proper guidance is given in that respect and that, as part of his inquiry, Sir Michael engages in dialogue with the data protection commissioner to find ways in which to strengthen guidance not only to the police, but to other agencies that may provide useful information.
§ Ms Blears
Obviously, I cannot comment on the particular case, which will be a matter for Sir Michael's inquiry. However, I should like to remind the House that the inquiry's terms of reference provide that he is not only urgently to inquire into child protection procedures in Humberside police and Cambridgeshire constabulary, butto assess the effectiveness of the relevant intelligence-based record keeping, the vetting practices in those forces since 1995 and information sharing with other agencies.The terms of reference thus make it absolutely clear that Sir Michael will examine those very important issues. I note my hon. Friend's comments about urgent guidance and clarification the whole House would agree that that needs to take place as soon as possible.
§ Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con)
The Minister spoke at some length about the inputting of data on to the computer and its timeliness. If the Government are going to place such an additional obligation on local police constabularies, will they be given the necessary resources? If not, we will find that fewer police officers are available to detect crime.
Given that duplication and triplication may occur when information is put on to a local computer, then has to be re-entered on to a national computer, could not an integrated system save time?
§ Ms Blears
The hon. Gentleman raises a fundamental point. The whole purpose of gathering intelligence is to enable our police forces to be more effective in fighting crime. Those matters are not mutually exclusive. The introduction of the national intelligence model, which is now being implemented across forces, is designed to ensure that, in relation to level 1 local crime, level 2 organised crime and level 3 national and international crime, we have a proper business framework for drawing together all the information and evidence that is out there, so that we can target our resources to the best effect and use our police officers smartly and more 1730 intelligently. The message to forces is that collecting data is not a bureaucratic burden, but the means by which they get the necessary information to drive their performance and to bear down on reducing and tackling crime.
In asking about information technology, the hon. Gentleman perhaps inadvertently raises a fundamental point about why we are embarking on our police reform process. As he will know, we have a massive programme called CJIT—criminal justice information technology—to integrate IT solutions across the criminal justice system, including the police and the courts, to ensure that we do not constantly duplicate our information. I understand that it will be some time before we have an integrated court-police interface—they have a slightly better system in Scotland—but we are on the case in terms of developing our own integrated information technology solution.
§ Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead) (Lab/Coop)
But where the police collect intelligence with a view to a prosecution, it is not at all clear how much of that intelligence should be factored into a computer record. Sometimes it can be tittle-tattle, but in other cases there may be a large number of independent reports that somebody is behaving in an abusive way. Integrating that information is a major difficulty. Will my hon. Friend set her team to consider legislation to that end, independently of the inquiry? We have addressed the issue in relation to antisocial behaviour—why should we not do so in relation to abusive persons?
§ Ms Blears
In an information-rich world, an increasing multiplicity of reports is available to us. My hon. Friend makes the important point that that information would be of much more use to us if we learned to handle it in an integrated way. I am encouraged when I see a much better use of information and data during my visits to forces. Some police officers are highly computer literate—certainly, more so than me and they are beginning to use those tools in a much better way to fight crime.
As regards legislation, part of Sir Michael's remit is to make recommendations to us of a local or a national nature, and we shall want carefully to consider those recommendations before embarking on further legislation in this area.
§ Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD)
Will the Minister ensure that the inquiry will also investigate procedural and organisational failures? In April this year, the Police Complaints Authority upheld 14 detailed complaints from one of my constituents in respect of the investigation by Cambridgeshire constabulary into the killing of her sister, Claire Oldfield-Hampson, in March in Cambridgeshire in 1996. Those complaints clearly identified serious systemic and organisational failures in that constabulary. Will the Minister ensure that the inquiry will consider not only that particular sad and tragic case, but circumstances where other constabularies have had a catalogue of complaints against them?
§ Ms Blears
I am not in a position to comment on the case that the hon. Gentleman mentions. However, it is important that as a fundamental part of his inquiry Sir 1731 Michael looks generally at the effectiveness of the police's intelligence-based records, the vetting practices that they undertake, and the way in which they share information. The way in which he organises the submissions that he takes in evidence is a matter for him, but I am sure that he will want to consider very carefully the systems that have been put in place and their effectiveness in handling information.
§ Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab)
The problem is that dangerous people move from one part of the country to another. One such case was the murder of young Ryan Mason in my constituency, who was viciously attacked by a man who then dumped his naked body in a bin bag on Great Lever golf course. The man, who was from another town, had moved in with Ryan's mother. The police already had evidence that he had carried out vicious attacks on two other young children. The police are developing a very powerful database, in which I have taken a great interest, called VISOR—the violent and sex offenders register. I understand that it is being trialled in three parts of the country and is to be rolled out in the new year. In my opinion, had VISOR been running at the time of the attack on Ryan, his life might well have been saved, so can my hon. Friend update us on the stage that it has reached?
§ Ms Blears
My hon. Friend makes the important point that people nowadays are more geographically mobile than ever and it is therefore important that forces can use the national computer and their regional databases to track information. He mentioned the 1732 VISOR database, which is being developed. I undertake to write to him to give further details of the way in which the trials are proceeding.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con)
Does the Minister agree that the integrity of the Criminal Records Bureau depends on verification of personal details? Following on from the question of the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon), it appears that it is possible to move to different parts of the country, use a different name and evade the checks. A senior police officer in this place suggested to me that instead of—or as well as—using a general credit reference, a specific credit card reference would be more precise and up to date. Will the Minister consider that and ask Sir Michael to look into it?
§ Ms Blears
I understand that, in the case of enhanced disclosures, the Criminal Records Bureau makes inquiries of the forces that cover the areas where the applicant has lived in the past five years. There is therefore provision in the Criminal Records Bureau process to try to track back to places where people have lived previously. I undertake to examine the hon. Gentleman's specific suggestion and ascertain whether it has merit and whether we could build it into the process.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab)
Does it not beggar belief that, in this day and age, when we have more police than at any other time in history, they allowed this man Huntley to get a job and escape the net for so long? Yet 20 years ago, the police, with fewer numbers but national priorities, were able to arrest 9,000 miners, nearly every single one of whom had a clean record. They were chucked in the clink, yet the police could not get hold of this man, who had been having sex with under-age girls all over Yorkshire and Humberside. It is time they got their priorities right.