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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 sensitivitywhether it is around children or vulnerable adults, or with access to huge amounts of moneywill 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.
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 employmentthe 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 appearsI use that word very carefully because we only know about some of the evidencethat 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, but
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.
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
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 CJITcriminal justice information technologyto 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 interfacethey have a slightly better system in Scotlandbut we are on the case in terms of developing our own integrated information technology solution.
Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead) (Lab/Co-op): 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 behaviourwhy 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 literatecertainly, more so than meand 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?