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The hon. Member for North Devon, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—

House Security

31. Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): If he will agree with the Royal Institute of British Architects the rules for an architecture competition to make the House more secure and more accessible; and if he will make a statement. [28134]

Nick Harvey (North Devon) : The Commission has no plans to sponsor such a competition. A range of schemes are in progress, however, to enhance access to the House and to improve security, including the new visitor reception building on Cromwell Green that is due to open late next year.

Mr. Allen: I thank the House of Commons Commission for that typically helpful and radical answer. Will the hon. Gentleman consider putting the idea of arranging a contest to the Commission? Will he consider getting personally involved by sponsoring a prize, perhaps for the best school entrant's redesign of this Chamber? If he does so, I will personally sponsor a prize for the best student architect who comes up with a redesign of the Chamber. It is about time that we tried to inspire people outside to see this place once again as the forum of the nation rather than "behind the goldfish bowl".

Nick Harvey: I would be happy to sponsor a prize, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, for the best school entrant, but I caution him that he must be careful about raising any expectation that the winning design is likely to be put into practical effect. The Commission made it clear last year that the idea of visitors moving through a gallery to see the Chamber in action is not feasible, particularly in the current security climate. If he wishes to work up a detailed proposal, however, I am sure that the Modernisation Committee will be pleased to consider it.

Fair Trade

32. Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): What proportion of products served in the refreshment outlets in the House are fair trade products. [28135]

Nick Harvey: It is not possible to give a single overall figure in the terms of the hon. Gentleman's question. Eight fair trade products are sold on a permanent basis, and another 10 intermittently. I am pleased to tell the House that all freshly brewed coffee served by the Refreshment Department is fair trade coffee.

Mr. Bone: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that reply. Should not we give a lead to the nation over fair trade
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products, which are very good? Surely the number of fair trade products available in the House is rather paltry, and should not we have a target for the availability of such products?

Nick Harvey: The fair trade product range is limited, and would therefore prevent us from reaching a high percentage. Many customers of the Refreshment Department exercise their choice, of which I am sure the hon. Gentleman would approve, by purchasing other products when fair trade products are available. Twenty-eight per cent. of the department's tea and coffee purchases in 2004–05 were fair trade. As he is aware, hon. Members can choose from a range of teas, and only a minority are currently taking advantage of fair trade products.


The Leader of the House was asked—

House of Lords Reform

33. Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on reform of the House of Lords. [28136]
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The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Nigel Griffiths): My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House holds regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues on all aspects of the Government's programme, including House of Lords reform. The Government remain committed to the manifesto pledges to make further progress in codifying the conventions of the House of Lords and reviewing its functions, as well as placing reasonable limits on the time taken for consideration of Bills in that House. We also plan to remove the remaining hereditary peers, and to hold a free vote on the composition of the House.

Bob Spink: Does the Deputy Leader of the House regret the Government's dismantling of the other place without a viable plan to replace it? Does he accept that the natural, logical consequence of that Government action is that the other place will eventually become a wholly, or largely, elected Chamber?

Nigel Griffiths: I think that the hon. Gentleman is almost alone in believing that the Government have not made improvements in reform of the other place. Obviously many Members feel that those improvements have not gone far enough, but they are reflected in the manifesto that we put before the electorate, and we intend to follow them through.


Pardon for Soldiers of the Great War

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay, supported by Chris Bryant, Paul Flynn, Jim Cunningham, Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson, David Taylor, Mr. David Chaytor, Jim Sheridan, Angus Robertson and Ms Katy Clark, presented a Bill to provide the granting of pardons to soldiers of the British Empire forces executed during the Great War of 1914 to 1919 following conviction for offences of cowardice, desertion or attempted desertion, disobedience, quitting post, violence, sleeping at post, throwing away arms or striking a superior officer; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on 2 December, and to be printed. [Bill 87].

Electoral Systems

Mr. David Chaytor, supported by Richard Burden, Mr. John Denham, Patrick Hall, Nick Harvey and Mr. David Heath, presented a Bill to provide for the holding of referendums about methods of election to the House of Commons and to local authorities; to enable a specified number of electors to require the holding of such a referendum; to require the Electoral Commission to establish a Citizen's Assembly to perform functions in relation to referendums; to provide for the adoption by a local authority of a different method of election; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 16 June, and to be printed. [Bill 88].

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Point of Order

3.31 pm

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, concerning a statement on future infantry structure made in the Chamber on 16 December last year by my right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State for Defence, who is present today in a different role. He made an announcement about a new regimental name in the north-west. I was very pleased that he had retained the name "Border Regiment". Now I find that the Army Board, without reference to the Houses of Parliament—without reference to this Chamber—has decided to change the name. Surely that cannot be right, especially as the King's Own Royal Border Regiment has just been sent to Iraq. It is totally out of order for the board to change a decision made in the Chamber.

Mr. Speaker: I understand and sympathise with the hon. Gentleman's point, but he should understand that this is not a matter in which I can intervene. I am sure he will be able to apply for an Adjournment debate, which will allow the appropriate Minister to come to the House and give an account of what has happened.

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Protection of Runaway and Missing Children

3.32 pm

Helen Southworth (Warrington, South) (Lab): I beg to move,

Children who run away or go missing from home are not bad children; they are children in a bad situation, at very real risk of danger. They need us to act together to help sort out their problems and keep them safe. We know the high risk that lone children face, yet we do not know how many children are reported missing to the police nationally, where they are missing or where they go. We do not have the information that we need to direct resources to deal with a critical and very complex issue.

The most comprehensive information that we have is from studies conducted by the Children's Society and the National Missing Persons Helpline, both of which are charities. The Children's Society undertook a new national survey of young people in the first half of 2005, involving more than 11,000 young people aged between 14 and 16 in mainstream schools, special schools and pupil referral units in 25 areas of England. The findings were stark. An estimated 100,000 young people under 16 run away or are forced to leave home to escape problems, while 77,000 children are running away for the first time each year.

The reasons for leaving home or care are very varied. Some young people are testing the boundaries, or find it difficult to negotiate and resolve difficulties in their families. Some have experienced bullying and a high level of conflict. Some are escaping abuse, neglect and danger. A quarter of young runaways said that they were forced to leave home and two thirds of children running away overnight were not reported missing to the police on the most recent occasion of going missing. Those findings are consistent with a smaller study conducted by the Children's Society in South Yorkshire and with evidence taken from the United States.

One in six runaways slept rough while they were away. If extrapolated, that means more than 10,000 children aged between 14 and 16 are sleeping rough every year in England alone. The risk of being hurt or harmed increases with the time spent away from home. Children who were away for a week or more were twice as likely to have been harmed as those away for just one night. Only a fifth of children sought help from anyone while away from home.

The university of York studied children who had used Message Home—the National Missing Persons Helpline 24-hour service—and found that while four fifths of those questioned had run away, one fifth reported that they had been forced to leave. The majority had gone missing from their family home, with a quarter reporting abuse and nearly a tenth bullying or other school problems. Many of those who had run away had stayed in very risky environments. Almost a third had stayed with a stranger, and more than two fifths had slept rough.
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In the York study, one in eight reported having been physically hurt and one in nine reported having been sexually assaulted while away. Young people reported feeling unsafe or frightened while staying with strangers. Some stayed with adults whom they thought were friends only to be subject to abuse and placed at risk. The report concluded:

Some young people have horrifying and very dangerous experiences that would test the courage and resilience of anyone in this Chamber—and the impact can be felt for many years.

Crisis, the charity for single homeless people, argues that research shows that children who run away are more likely to become homeless in later life. Crisis believes that it is important to intervene as early as possible to prevent runaway children from settling into a homeless lifestyle. The circumstances in which young people run away or are missing from home or care can be distressing, frightening and dangerous. It is difficult for the police and local authorities to predict the risk in individual cases.

Huge improvements have been made in children's services since the Children's Society set up the first UK refuge for runaway children in 1985. The social exclusion unit reported on young runaways in November 2002 and the Department of Health statutory guidance issued at the same time places requirements on local authorities to establish joint protocols to co-ordinate joint working across all agencies—including police, social services and health—for children who go missing. Each authority must have a senior manager to oversee those protocols and their implementation, and must produce an annual strategic monitoring report.

Part of the complexity of supporting children who have run away or are missing from home is that many children do not stay close to home. In my constituency, for example, they could be in the major cities of Liverpool or Manchester within 40 minutes of leaving home, crossing several local authority and police boundaries in the process. Police boundaries are rarely coterminous with those of local authorities.

The Association of Chief Police Officers has published guidance this year on the management, recording and investigation of missing persons, with standardised data collection requirements and case management procedures. For the first time, there are national standards to work to and forces can be inspected on them. However, the guidance does not yet have the status of a code of practice, and does not yet have the IT infrastructure to underpin the reporting requirement. Indeed, some police forces are still using paper-based systems, making information sharing very labour intensive. ACPO has developed protocols and IT systems with the National Missing Persons Helpline and the Home Office has agreed to make the IT systems available to forces at cost.

The Bill will establish a requirement for a single comprehensive national database and for the reporting of information to enable effective planning, to identify   trends and to inform service commissioning and the sharing of best practice. There is no national
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co-ordination in place for providing services to young runaways—despite the very clear fact that running away is an act that can take children and young people across local authority and police boundaries and right across the country. The UK Police National Missing Persons Bureau, which conducted a strategic review earlier this year, could play a key role in managing data, running briefs and debriefs on critical incidents, and providing information for the commissioning of local and strategic services. But it needs a clear remit, and to be properly resourced as part of a national strategy.

Voluntary organisations are providing very important support services for vulnerable children, some of whom do not relate to, or feel intimidated by, statutory services. Some of these organisations are strategic service providers such as the Children's Society and the National Missing Persons Helpline, but a wide range of charities and non-governmental organisations also play a vital role supporting runaway and missing children and young people. In my constituency, "Talk Don't Walk"—a new, local charity-managed joint partnership project with the police, the local authority, health services, Connexions and the voluntary sector—is having a significant impact on reducing incidents of running away. Early this year, it worked with children in local authority care and their care staff to deal with issues of concern to them, and to prevent them from needing to push the boundaries by running away. The number of runaway incidents was cut from 83 to 39, and overnight episodes were cut from 67 to just one. On the basis of Home Office figures, which state that an overnight episode costs more than £1,400 on average, the total saving in terms of service resources was in excess of £78,000, but the saving in anxiety, risk and danger to those young people was far greater.

There are a significant number of local and national agencies and departments whose activities and responsibilities need to be brought together to support vulnerable children who are susceptible to running away. Advice and counselling, and help with negotiating boundaries and managing relationships, could assist such young people in finding alternative strategies to deal with problems at home and in school.
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We need a national overview of projects working with missing children, so that we can learn what works best and roll out best practice. We also need a strategic body to commission or purchase cross-boundary services such as a nationally accessible 24-hour helpline; an appropriate number of children's refuges; and safe, supported accommodation. The National Missing Persons Helpline is dependent on donations, grants, charity shops and volunteers for its survival. The Children's Society's "safe and sound" campaign has highlighted the fact that there are only three children's refuges in the UK, offering a total of just 10 beds. Moreover, Government funding for the two runaway refuges in England will end in March 2006.

This Bill will establish a requirement for the national collection and reporting of data on children reported missing to the police, and a requirement for a regular national survey of young people similar to the British crime survey, in order to identify under-reporting. With co-ordinated leadership from national Government, it will also establish a national co-ordinating body that will include key statutory and voluntary agencies, in order to develop integrated policy and service provision.

We need to do this to protect vulnerable children, and I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Helen Southworth, John Battle, Ann Keen, Rosemary McKenna, Liz Blackman, Dan Norris, Ms Dari Taylor, Paddy Tipping, Laura Moffatt, Kitty Ussher, Peter Bottomley and Mr. Paul Burstow.

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