HL Deb 06 November 1989 vol 512 cc427-8

Viscount Brentford asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will set up one central register for all missing young people throughout the country.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, we are considering the establishment of a register for missing persons. We are discussing the financial implications with the Metropolitan Police and with the Association of Chief Police Officers.

Viscount Brentford

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that encouraging reply. Will he be answering the report of the Association of Chief Police Officers shortly? Can he tell the House when he is likely to reach a decision on whether or not to set up a central register? Finally, is he aware of the tremendous distress which is caused—largely because there is no central register—to the parents of some 98,000 young people who go missing every year?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, we recognise the shortcomings of the present system and the advantages of a national bureau. We are discussing with the Metropolitan Police the resource implications of establishing a national missing persons bureau as a matter of priority. My right honourable friend will make a decision as soon as possible after those discussions have been concluded.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, is it not true that the Salvation Army has a register of missing persons in this country?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, that may be true, but I do not know whether it is.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, if one is a parent whose child is missing and wants to try to find the child, is there anywhere one can apply now, before the Minister's right honourable friend makes up his mind?

Earl Ferrers

Yes, my Lords, if those unfortunate circumstances were to arise the parents could go to the police station and report the loss of the child. It is an operational matter for individual chief police officers to decide how to set about the inquiry. The facts may be circulated to other police forces or to the missing persons bureau at New Scotland Yard, as chief police officers consider necessary.

My noble friend asked whether there is a means of co-ordinating the efforts of the various chief officers. Perhaps I may add that the most accurate figures that we have show that in 1987 110,000 vulnerable people—old, young or mentally ill—were reported as missing.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, while I regret my inability to ask a very intelligent supplementary question on this first Question, which was not asked, perhaps I may ask the Minister whether consideration has been given to the definition of "young people" in such a national register. Does the Minister not agree that, whereas it is very necessary and helpful to have a national register for children, to have a register for missing young people, for example, over the age of 17 who have left home deliberately and who do not wish to be traced by their parents, might be very harmful and could embroil the police in difficulties of which they would like to be free?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I have never before registered the inability of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, to ask an intelligent question. If there is any lack of intelligence it is in the way in which the question is answered. At present any person under the age of 18 is described as a young person. It is important that if young people are missing, they should be traced wherever possible. Of course that will involve some difficult and delicate situations, but I believe that that fact ought to be faced.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, is the Minister aware that, to my knowledge, the Salvation Army—which he dismissed rather lightly—does hold records of missing persons?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I can assure the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, that in no way did I dismiss the Salvation Army. What I dismissed was the fact that I did not know that a record was kept by the Salvation Army. I am sure that the fact that it is kept is of great reassurance to the House. That does not preclude the desirability of the police also holding an up-to-date record.

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