HC Deb 24 March 2003 vol 402 cc13-4
8. Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk)

If he will make a statement on access by the Office of Fair Trading to information on convicted criminals held on the police national computer. [104114]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Michael Wills)

Decisions on access to information on the police national computer are primarily a matter for the Association of Chief Police Officers. Direct access by the Office of Fair Trading was approved in 2001 to enable it to undertake its role as a prosecution agency. An application for access for the purpose of checks on applicants for consumer credit licences was not approved at that time because it was considered that such checks would be more appropriately made through the Criminal Records Bureau once the basic disclosure service became available. As the priority for the CRB is now to ensure that the demand for higher level disclosures is fully met, I understand that the OFT is considering making a fresh application for direct access to the police national computer as an interim measure.

Mr. Bacon

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. Will he tell us what advice the Home Office will be giving to the Association of Chief Police Officers on this matter? Dodgy consumer credit companies prey on some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the country, and there seems to be little point in holding criminal records on people if a body as important as the Office of Fair Trading cannot get routine access to that information before deciding whether to grant or withhold a consumer credit licence.

Mr. Wills

The hon. Gentleman rightly draws attention to the importance of this issue. It is a matter for the Association of Chief Police Officers, but the OFT has been advised that the next committee meeting that will decide on such access will take place in April. It might help the hon. Gentleman to understand that, since the original application was made in 2001, circumstances have changed in two respects. First, the Criminal Records Bureau service that it was then thought would be available is not currently available. Secondly, recent advances in information technology have made security of access much more possible. I am sure that ACPO will bear both those factors in mind as and when the OFT makes such an application.