The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Clarke): I have today placed in the Library of the House copies of the Government's progress report on implementing the recommendations of Sir Michael Bichard's inquiry into issues surrounding the Soham murders. All 31 recommendations were accepted by the Government when the inquiry reported in June 2004 and we remain fully committed to delivering the necessary programme of change. In June, Sir Michael made clear his intention to reconvene his inquiry and review progress six months after publishing his findings, and in November he formally requested a report to assist him in doing so. This was sent to him on 22 December.
The progress report is made on behalf of the Government and the range of stakeholders who have contributed to implementation. It indicates that significant progress has been made in taking forward the recommendations, which fall into four main areas: the development of a national IT infrastructure to support the handling of police intelligence and other information; the introduction of a statutory code of practice on police information management; improved measures to protect children and vulnerable adults, including a registration scheme for those wishing to work with these groups; and a range of enhancements to existing vetting processes.
The report sets out what has been achieved in each of these areas, together with plans and milestones for future action. Key areas of delivery are:
The introduction of a national IT system for police information sharing. The IMPACT programme (information management, prioritisation, analysis, co-ordination and tasking) has been established to provide a national information-sharing system and to modernise the central information services available through the police national computer. New information sharing tools will start becoming available to police forces and the Criminal Records Bureau through the police local cross-check system (PLX) from early 2005, and there will be a progressive strengthening of capabilities until completion of the IMPACT programme in 2007;"
The "police local cross-check system (PLX)" system is based on what was developed in Scotland several years ago, and is meant to be some sort of data flagging system which points a local police force in the direction of other police forces or national systems, where records relating to a suspect might be held. It apparently does not attempt to hold copies of those other records themselves.
How on earth it deals with misspelled names or aliases across different databases is a mystery, and an area where there will be false positives and false negatives. Will it actually cut down on the bureacracy in the police forces ?
Who independently reviews the performance and privacy aspects of these systems ? Any one local Police Authority simply does not have the remit for national systems. The Home Office is hardly impartial or competent in any area of technology. The information Commissioner does not deal with systems which are exempt from the Data protection Act.
This statement does not really add anything to the previous one by David Blunkett, in terms of the target dates by which these systems are claimed to be fully operational throughout the country.
The production of a statutory code of practice on information management, for the police service. A draft code has already been produced and issued for consultation. It is annexed to the progress report and is due to come into force by May 2005. It will be supported by detailed operational guidance to forces and will help to ensure that decisions about reviewing, retaining, deleting and sharing information are taken on a consistent basis;"
We look forward to reading this onmce it becomes more widely available online.
"The development of a registration scheme covering persons considered unsuitable to work with children and vulnerable adults. This is underway and will build on the existing barring lists in providing a comprehensive, centralised, integrated system to prevent unsuitable people from gaining access to vulnerable groups through paid or voluntary work. Final decisions on the detail of the scheme will follow a feasibility study which will report early in 2005;
The enhancement of staff recruitment procedures in education to reflect best practice in safeguarding children. New guidance for schools is under development and an initial on-line training programme will be introduced by spring 2005;
Advice to all social services authorities emphasising the importance of effective information sharing with the police in relation to actual or alleged offences against children has already been issued. In addition, comprehensive new guidance will be developed by December 2005 as part of the wider guidance on local safeguarding children boards;
Significant development and improvements to existing vetting procedures. A quality assurance framework to assist forces in carrying out their roles in the vetting process has been successfully trialled and will be rolled out to all police forces by October 2005.
All these strands of work are being taken forward within a programme structure based on effective joined-up working across the Government Departments and delivery agencies involved. Training arrangements are being put in place to support implementation, together with targeted inspection and performance measurement regimes to ensure compliance with new and improved systems.
It is vital to ensure the same level of protection for all children and other vulnerable people, wherever they are in the United Kingdom. The Scottish Executive, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Office have therefore been closely involved in this programme of work. For some of the recommendations, the route to implementation will differ between jurisdictions, but the objective of effective, integrated systems is the same. The arrangements in different jurisdictions are set out in more detail in the report.
The Government remain totally committed to full implementation of Sir Michael Bichard's recommendations and to ensuring that the necessary resources are available to support the process. "
Sir Michael called for the setting up of an independent registry of all people with access to children or vulnerable adults. This is not what the Home Office seems to be setting up.
This may actually be a sensible thing, given that nobody has any confidence in the Home Office's ability to roll out Yet Another National Database which duplicates much of the Criminal Records Bureau.
However, to spin this as if the Government were really "totally committed to full implementation of Sir Michael Bichard's recommendations", whilst actually dropping one of the recommendations:.
"But in a progress report published this week, the government admits that, following a feasibility study, a model building on existing lists barring unsuitable people will be used instead.
The Protection of Children Act List 1999 and List 99 will be brought together under an overarching registration scheme to be run by a central body.
It is estimated the database will cost £10 million to set up and between 8 million and 10 million to run annually in England and Wales. A full study to refine costs will be carried out by March."
The Home Office should have said, "sorry, we accept most of the reccomendations except this one, which is not feasible, for these reasons", instead of claiming full compliance with all the recommendations.
Home Secretary Charles Clarke therefore seems to be following the same policy of media spin and disinformation as pursued by his predecessor David Blunkett.