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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, that point is well made: one can assist in ways other than outright financial donation. I am happy to tell your Lordships that the helpline is holding a seminar in April/May of this year. It has the support of the police. Representatives from other EU states have been invited. Obviously the type of questions that the noble Lord has identified will be discussed at that seminar.
Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, I reinforce what my noble friend said when pleading with the Minister to keep under review the question of further help for the helpline. I declare an interest as a former chairman of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust. Is he aware that I can remember the time when the helpline was just two dedicated, unpaid women. They have remarkable achievement behind them, and they deserve every possible support.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, it is indeed a remarkable achievement. Mary Asprey and Janet Newman began the organisation in 1992, really, as the noble Lord said, on their own initiative. The helpline now has over 80,000 calls a year, and obviously helps an enormous number of people. We believe--I hope that your Lordships endorse this--that there is a place for voluntary, charitable organisations in this country. It is a noble tradition of long standing. There is equally a place for public funding of the type which I have described. Home Office funding to the police bureau is £85,000 a year. It is co-operation which is the key, and not necessarily the donation of further public funds, which are rather tight at the moment.
Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that approximately 100,000 families are likely to contact the helpline during the next 12 months and without the money that is needed to continue the work it will be severely undermined? Could not further consideration be given to this worthwhile cause?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the figure of 100,000 is in accord with the figure of 80,000 contacts made during the past year. We recognise that the issue is extremely important. I have not closed the door to further funding, but I have said that such funding as there is goes to the police bureau. There is a place for voluntary organisations as well as state-funded organisations. In the past, this important work was undertaken by some Sunday newspapers and other organisations working in the field. I am not
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, would the Minister be in favour of funding only the telephone bill? Eighty-thousand telephone calls are a lot, and perhaps further consideration can be given to that small measure of assistance.
Lord Monkswell: My Lords, my noble friend in his Answer mentioned the police having responsibility for missing vulnerable people. Can he give the House an explanation of how the police define "vulnerable" people?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, under the operational independent control of the chief constable, each police force approaches the matter slightly differently. It is easy to think of people who may have mental disabilities, children, the disabled and the lonely. Each chief constable will give operational internal directions to his relevant officers about how to deal with the scale of priorities in this area.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, will the Minister accept that many of us have sympathy with his point that there is a place for public sector contributions and for charitable voluntary contributions? However, will he also accept that some voluntary contributions become of a scale where public sector involvement is not only appropriate but essential? The term "partnership" is much used to describe the relationship between the various sectors. Will the Minister further accept that unless both sectors show that they are prepared to be active and useful partners the whole operation may fall away?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, of course I accept the principle for which the noble Baroness contends; it underpinned my earlier answers. There is partnership between the police, the Home Office and the helpline. I mention the April/May seminar. In May or June, the police staff college at Bramshill is holding a two-day seminar on trafficking in human beings and the sexual exploitation of children in Europe. That is an aspect of tackling this serious problem. The helpline has been asked to contribute. That is an example of partnership in action as opposed to public fund donation. The two have a part to play.
Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, irrespective of whether Europe will be there, does the Minister recall that in the NHS there is a great deal of contracting between medical charities and health authorities? Is there not an opportunity for the strategic services to contract with the helpline for the kind of service it can provide?
Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne: My Lords, may I congratulate the Home Office, through the Minister, on its work in co-ordination with the helpline? Will the Minister bring the Foreign and Commonwealth Office into play, too, because, with regard to paedophilia and child prostitution in Eastern Europe, perhaps the know-how fund and such sources of expertise will be valuable in assisting the helpline to train workers in Romania and other countries where such dreadful incidents occur?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, should it be required, I am more than happy to engage the willing co-operation of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Happily, my noble friend Lady Symons is sitting next to me and has heard the question and the answer. One must sometimes draw a limit; one cannot go on endlessly. One thinks of particular categories of missing persons; apparently, the last two young Conservatives were recently seen catching the ferry from Dover!
Lord Calverley: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the work of the Salvation Army also plays a big part in respect of missing persons? Can he assure the House that the records held by the police, the National Missing Persons Helpline and the Salvation Army are combined in order that all three agencies can use them?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am more than happy to pay tribute to the work of that exemplary organisation, the Salvation Army. I take my text from its experience. It draws its funds often in the most unlikely circumstances--public houses and so forth--by selling War Cry and soliciting donations. That is an example of what I referred to earlier. I accept the noble Lord's comments about the operation of databases. It is a practical utility which can be achieved without too much expenditure of public money.
This is the second consolidation Bill which I have brought before your Lordships this Session. The Audit Commission was established by Part III of the Local Government Finance Act 1982. Its main purpose then was to audit the accounts of local authorities. Since 1982, it has been given additional functions and its powers have been extended to cover other public bodies. The most substantial change was in 1990 when it was given responsibility to audit the accounts of health service bodies. The 1982 Act has been amended so extensively that the Law Commission has undertaken a consolidation.
The Bill consolidates Part III of the 1982 Act and sections of the Education Reform Act 1988, the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990 and the Local Government Act 1992. My right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister has consulted the Audit Commission, government departments and other bodies about the Bill. None has raised any objection.
We support the valuable work of parliamentary draftsmen and the Law Commission in bringing the statute book up to date and making it easier to follow. I commend the latest proofs of that work to the House. If your Lordships are content to give the Bill a Second Reading it will be referred to the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills in the usual way. I beg to move.