HL Deb 12 February 2004 vol 656 cc1208-10

11.29 a.m.

Lord St John of Bletso asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is being done to improve the speed with which missing persons are traced, following recent advances in mobile location-based technologies.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, many people go missing in the UK every year. These cases cover a huge range of different types of situation, from incidents involving serious crimes to relatively minor cases in which the person returns home quickly with no significant long-term effects and unharmed. Although the more serious cases will require a police response, the most appropriate intervention for less serious cases might better be made by another agency, and Home Office policy is aimed at developing multi-agency approaches to missing persons.

In support of this policy, the National Centre for Policing Excellence is developing a code of practice. The Home Office, the Police Service and the National Missing Persons Helpline are running a project to develop joint working between the police and the helpline.

Lord St John of Bletso

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply, but is he aware that there was a 45 per cent increase in child abduction cases last year and that if an abducted child goes missing for more than six hours, there is a high probability that that child will not be found alive? Given the advances in mobile location-based technologies and the proliferation of use of mobile phones, what measures, if any, are being taken by Her Majesty's Government to assist the police and other agencies in tracing these vulnerable missing persons?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I am aware of the figures to which the noble Lord referred. However, we should understand that the police service is already actively using mobile location-based technologies in the investigation of some missing persons cases. It should also be put on record that the technology has been used to great success in tracking those who are at risk. Of course, the Police Information Technology Organisation is doing all that it can to promote, throughout the country, the use of that technology where appropriate. The noble Lord made valuable reference to examples of when that technology can quickly be put to good effect.

Viscount Bridgeman

My Lords, will the Minister assure the House that the Government are studying the progress of the technology in the United States that enables mobile phones to be used as location devices whether or not they are turned on?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, that is one of the issues that the Police Information Technology Organisation looks at from time to time and keeps urgently under review.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, will the Minister inform the House to what extent the information in personal mobile telephone records is private and therefore protected by the human rights convention? Do the police have to apply for a warrant to investigate such records?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, human rights issues are involved, but the police make operational judgments about what is reasonable in the circumstances. They are well aware of the human rights issues and must operate within the ambit of human rights legislation.

Lord McNally

My Lords, are the mobile phone operators co-operating as fully as the police would like in terms of using these technologies for this purpose?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I am not aware that mobile telephone companies are obstructing the police in any way in using this technology. We all recognise its value and I am sure that the mobile telephone companies themselves are well aware of the important role that they can play in enhancing public safety and security.

The Earl of Northesk

My Lords, what is the Government's current assessment of the number of children who go missing as a consequence of being groomed in Internet chat rooms?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I have a feeling that that is a statistical impossibility to detect. I do not have data to help the noble Lord with that question. Obviously I am prepared to go away and see if we can find some useful statistics and shall happily share those with the noble Lord and the rest of your Lordships' House.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville

My Lords, ancillary to the Morecambe Bay tragedy, has there been any reduction in the number of Chinese illegal immigrants who have been abducted by Chinese in this country and ransoms then demanded from their families in China?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I am sorry, but my brief does not extend that far. I wish that it did and that I could help the noble Lord with that question.

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