While I am generally satisfied that local authorities, which are responsible for the selection of their own social services staff, and voluntary organisations, exercise proper care in recruiting persons for work in connection with children, I accept that procedures could be improved to assist them in that task. The review of disclosure of convictions policy established by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, with which our Department is actively involved, is considering ways in which this can best be achieved.
Is my hon. Friend aware of my interest in the Marsh House hostel for mentally handicapped children in King's Lynn? He will be aware that Norfolk county council is in the process of appointing a new head. In the light of previous experience, it is imperative that a person of extremely high calibre is appointed. What can my hon. Friend do to help?
I am aware of my hon. Friend's deep concern about Marsh House, which is in his constituency. He has made that known through correspondence with me and my Department. We are happy to assist Norfolk county council in any way that we can to get the right person for the job. The consultancy service, which my Department offers to social services departments worried about people being put in charge of or having access to children, is widely used. During 1984 there were some 12,000 references, and the rate of references to that service this year is growing yet again.
Is my hon. Friend aware that a considerable number of people employed professionally in residential homes are pressing hard for some sort of centralised recording system for people with criminal records? Will he give an assurance that he is consulting them on this difficult matter?
Obviously, I appreciate my hon. Friend's concern and the rightful concern of the highly professional and dedicated people who work in our children's homes throughout the country. The review that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is at present conducting is addressing itself to exactly the issue that my hon. Friend has raised. We hope to have a report within the next couple of months.