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Identity Cards

7. Mr. Dunn: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what progress has been made on his evaluation of the introduction of identity cards. [30267]

Mr. Howard: We are making good progress in our assessment of the responses received to the Green Paper on identity cards. I hope to be able to announce our final decision shortly.

Mr. Dunn: Although my right hon. and learned Friend is awaiting a report from the Select Committee on Home Affairs on the matter, does he agree that one use of a national identity card would be to provide proof of identity by those about to vote in elections? An ID card would prevent wide-scale abuse and impersonation, which is taking place in national and local elections.

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Mr. Howard: There is almost no limit to the number of uses that might be made of an identity card. We evaluated many of them in the consultation document that we issued. I know that my hon. Friend is sympathetic to the view that we should await the report of the Home Affairs Committee. I hope to be able to announce our proposals shortly thereafter.

Mr. Beggs: Will the Home Secretary give an assurance that, in the event of an identity card being introduced, it will apply throughout the United Kingdom? Will he take account of the widespread forgery of documents that facilitate personation in elections in certain areas of Northern Ireland? That could be overcome by a single document and enable a greater number of people who have been disfranchised due to arriving to vote with only one part of a driving licence, an out-of-date passport, or whatever, to be entitled to exercise their vote? I exhort him to give that assurance today.

Mr. Howard: The hon. Gentleman will know that whether our proposals extend in due course to Northern Ireland is a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I shall ensure that the views that the hon. Gentleman has expressed with characteristic forcefulness are drawn to my right hon. and learned Friend's attention.

Mr. Budgen: Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the smartcard, which is required from people who are applying for payment under social security rules, is a form of voluntary identity card? Could not that smartcard principle be applied to a host of other circumstances in which the citizen comes into contact with the agencies of the state?

Mr. Howard: That is indeed a possibility. My hon. Friend has identified one way in which identity cards might develop. The smartcard technology might not be available for general-purpose use for some time, but we shall clearly bear it in mind.

Mr. Straw: Crime has doubled in the past 17 years, which represents the worst record of any British Government since the war, and the worst record among the Governments of 16 western countries surveyed by the Home Office. Against that background, we can all understand the synthetic hysteria that we have heard from the Government Dispatch Box this afternoon. On 1 April last year, the Prime Minister, opening the Conservative party's local election campaign, said that compulsory identity cards would

May we now have a categorical undertaking from the Home Secretary that that remains the Government's policy?

Mr. Howard: I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman talks about synthetic hysteria, because he is an expert in the real thing. The shadow Chief Whip says that his proposals for a curfew are unworkable, the hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge) says that they are ridiculous, and the Association of Chief Police Officers' spokesman says that they would give rise to huge practical difficulties. The only curfew that the Labour party is ever likely to impose is a curfew on the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr.

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Straw) himself. It all goes to show that the Labour party cannot be trusted on crime. [Hon. Members: "Answer the question."] The hon. Gentleman began his question by talking about crime, so I am answering about crime.

As for identity cards, the hon. Gentleman will know that we have always made it plain that we are considering the range of identity card proposals, voluntary and compulsory, and we shall make our decision known in due course.

Madam Speaker: Order. Perhaps I might at this juncture refer the Secretary of State to answers that I gave yesterday to points of order concerning the answering of questions. They are recorded in column 609 of yesterday's Hansard.

Prisoners (Reform)

9. Mr. Harry Greenway: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what recent action has been taken to make prisons better at reforming prisoners. [30270]

Miss Widdecombe: It is central to the Prison Service's mission statement that it helps prisoners to lead law-abiding lives both in custody and after release. Recent action to reduce reoffending and reform prisoners includes the introduction of a scheme of incentives and earned privileges, an increase in the number of hours that prisoners spend in purposeful activity, mandatory drugs testing, and strengthened offending behaviour programmes.

Mr. Greenway: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Bearing in mind the low level of education of many prisoners, does she agree that every penny spent on education for those in prison is well spent, and is especially helpful in reforming them and in enabling them to lead useful lives after prison?

Miss Widdecombe: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, which is why we have brought about a massive increase in education spending in our prisons, and in the amount of education spending per prisoner, and why the number of student hours in our prisons is nearly double the number that we inherited from the Labour party.

Mr. Pike: Despite what the Minister says, is it not important that the opportunities offered at prisons such as Risley for prisoners to be trained into jobs, and to be able find employment when they leave prison, should be available to every prisoner in every prison, so that there is a real possibility of reducing crime and prisoners do not have to end up back in prison?

Miss Widdecombe: Proper employment opportunities for prisoners do indeed play an important role in rehabilitation, and preparation for employment in outside life is certainly part of that role. That is why there has been a vast increase in employment opportunities for prisoners, and such a substantial increase in the number of hours of purposeful activity spent by prisoners and in the number of national vocational qualifications and other qualifications gained by prisoners. The hon. Gentleman was right; he merely failed to congratulate us on what we are doing in that respect.

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Mr. Ashby: My hon. Friend outlined improvements in the Prison Service and in the welfare of prisoners in answer to an earlier question. Is she aware that, in evidence given to the Home Affairs Select Committee yesterday, it was noticeable that the privately run prisons were at the forefront of those improvements, and that the welfare and well-being of prisoners was better in private prisons than in the public sector? Does that not show that our policies are the right policies?

Miss Widdecombe: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that private sector prisons have an excellent record of achievement, with one being praised by the chief inspector of prisons as a model of good practice. My hon. Friend did not mention that that has been achieved with more cost-effectiveness and greater value for money than we currently achieve in the public sector. But there are also excellent examples in the public sector and it is in the interests of the Prison Service as a whole that good practice should be disseminated, no matter where it originates. I hope that the Opposition will bear that in mind when pouring scorn on private sector prisons that have achieved so much.

Closed Circuit Television

10. Mr. Rendel: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what criteria he has used to decide on the allocation of Government grant to closed circuit television schemes. [30271]

Mr. Maclean: Bids made under the CCTV challenge competition are being assessed against the criteria set out in the bidding guidance issued on 22 November. Copies of the guidance have been placed in the Library. We shall be announcing the results of the competition in early summer.

Mr. Rendel: In the first round of grants, we had the absurd situation of a grant being offered to the then Conservative-led Wokingham district council, which then refused to take up the scheme, while no grant was offered to Newbury--then led by the Liberal Democrats--which went ahead with the scheme anyway because it was determined to push ahead with crime prevention. Will the Minister assure us that the criteria will not allow such a ridiculous situation to arise again and that, this time, grants will be given to the authorities that want to use them?

Mr. Maclean: The hon. Gentleman is being rather careful in his use of language. Throughout the country, Liberal Democrat and Labour-controlled councils have been consistently hostile to CCTV. Those councils may now be queuing up to take money from a Tory Government to set up CCTV schemes, but they have been hostile to its use in the past. We will judge all bids for CCTV fairly and honestly. If a council does not make use of the money, it will lose it and the money will go into the Treasury coffers. If a council can use the money allocated to it, it can hang on to it. Newbury will be treated the same as the other applicants--they will all be treated fairly. But the hon. Gentleman should not pretend that the Liberals have liked CCTV, although they are keen to take our money now.

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Mr. Tracey: May I commend to my right hon. Friend the grant application from the royal borough of Kingston upon Thames? Kingston has one of the most vibrant and successful shopping centres in the south of England, but that centre provides opportunities for crime. CCTV would ensure that the crime rate in Kingston fell, as it should.

Mr. Maclean: Of course, the police in Kingston have been successful in ensuring that the crime rate is reduced. I repeat that all applications for CCTV funding from the extra money that we have made available--an increase from £5 million to £15 million--will be carefully considered before we come to a decision.

Mrs. Ewing: We all recognise that CCTV is an innovation and that its success in the prevention and detection of crime has yet to be proved. The Minister, who knows my constituency, may realise that there is a danger that the application of CCTV may drive organised criminal gangs out of city centres and into rural areas. What action will he take to ensure that rural areas are not subjected to increased crime as a result of what is happening in city centres?

Mr. Maclean: The hon. Lady's question would have been better directed to the Scottish Office, but I can refer her to Scottish Office and Home Office research which shows that the displacement that she fears has not occurred. I can speak with authority for England and Wales on this matter, as I am the Minister responsible. The latest crime figures in those countries show that the police in rural areas have been every bit as successful in cracking down on crime as the police in metropolitan areas. In 1995, crime fell even more in rural or non-metropolitan areas than in metropolitan ones. I cannot give the figures for Scotland.

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