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Crime Fighting (New Technology)

36. Mr. Woolas: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what measures he is taking to ensure that new technology is properly used in the fight against crime. [112609]

Mr. Charles Clarke: We are taking a comprehensive range of measures to ensure that new technology is used more effectively to tackle crime.

The newly formed Property Crime Reduction Action team is taking forward work with industry to encourage the comprehensive electronic tagging or "chipping" of goods. The ability to track and trace goods effectively will have far-reaching implications for commerce and crime reduction.

Under the £153 million Closed Circuit Television Initiative, over £48 million has currently been allocated to some 280 schemes in England and Wales. All proposals are closely scrutinised to ensure Closed Circuit Television will contribute effectively to crime reduction as part of a wider local crime reduction strategy, and that the technology is used fairly and lawfully.

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We are developing proposals for the greater use of automatic number plate recognition systems by police forces.

The Police Scientific Development Branch of the Home Office provides technical, operational and policy support and also experimental development and research for all United Kingdom Police forces and the Home Office.

We are improving the use of Information Technology systems by the Police Service. The National Strategy for Police Information Systems (NSPIS) is a vehicle to enable better procurement and use of Information Technology. A major part of the NSPIS programme is the production of national software for police use. The Police Information Technology Organisation is developing the common data and technical architectures needed to support that software. These are being designed to ensure interworking between forces, inter-operability between systems in different forces and standard interfaces between police systems and those elsewhere within the criminal justice system.

The Police Information Technology Organisation is also rolling out a £120 million national automated fingerprint system (NAFIS) which will be capable of supporting a database of over 54 million ten-print sets and two million crime scene marks. It will be possible to process over 5,000 ten-prints and 5,000 scene of crime marks each day and make over one million fingerprint comparisons every second. The roll out will be completed by April 2001. We are also investing an extra £34 million over the next two years to expand the DNA database.

We are funding a project to assess the effectiveness of applying enhanced forensic science techniques to scenes of crime in identifying and successfully prosecuting those involved. That complements the expansion of the DNA database.

The Government will legislate when parliamentary time allows to give the police bulk access, through the Police National Computer (PNC), to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency's driver records. Steps are also in hand to give the police ready access through the PNC to the Motor Insurance Industry database of insured drivers (which would become operational in 2001) and to computerised MOT records (which should be available from late 2002).

We are funding the Foresight Crime Prevention Panel which is identifying future opportunities for using advances in technology to reduce crime. It will publish a consultation document later this month.

The Council of Europe is currently negotiating a cybercrime convention (most provisions are already in United Kingdom law) in which the United Kingdom is now a leading player. This is due for completion in December 2000. The United Kingdom is also working with its G8 partners in the High-tech Crime sub-group, looking at innovative and novel solutions to internet crime.

Ballot Arrangements

37. Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will introduce

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legislation to regulate the procedures and modus operandi of organisations which make arrangements for ballots. [112610]

Mr. Mike O'Brien: No. Organisations are responsible for their own ballot procedures.

Rural Crime

38. Charlotte Atkins: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what action his Department is taking to combat the increase in rural crime. [112611]

Mr. Charles Clarke: Both the level of crime and the fear of crime remain lower in rural areas than in urban or inner-city areas, but this does not mean that there is room for complacency.

The key to tackling rural crime lies in partnerships. The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 provisions relating to the establishment of crime reduction partnerships, the conduct of audits and the drawing up of strategies enable specific rural concerns to be addressed with the involvement of all the interested parties, including the rural community and rural voluntary organisations. In addition, the Best Value duty, placed on police authorities from April, will involve wide local consultation and provide a framework for the review of all police activities, including how they respond to the concerns of rural communities.

To recognise the additional demands in tackling rural crime, the police funding formula includes a sparsity element. The position of rural police forces has improved steadily since 1997; in the current financial year their budgets will increase on average by 3.6 per cent., compared with around 2.7 per cent. for the metropolitan forces. The ring-fenced Crime Fighting Fund to provide money for extra police officers on the ground will also benefit rural forces.

Other funding provision includes a number of successful bids in the first round of Closed Circuit Television funding which cover rural areas, and rural bids will feature specifically in the second round. Targeted policing initiatives funded within the Crime Reduction Programme may also cover rural areas. The Home Office Joint Funding Initiative will match-fund the police service and other local partners in the setting up of Arrest Referral Schemes and the purchase of drug treatment. This is expected to have a significant impact on rural crime committed to support drug misuse and on fear of crime.

A number of "Watch" schemes are of particular relevance to the countryside, including Farm, Horse, Country and Poacher Watch. There are over 500 Farm Watch schemes covering offences from theft of equipment to rustling, and the Plant Theft Action Group of the Vehicle Crime Reduction Action Team is developing work to improve security for farm equipment by bringing it more up to the standard that already exists for cars.

Police Training (Hendon)

Mr. Blunt: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many police cadets have begun training at Hendon on each of the courses commencing since 1 January; and what is the capacity of each course. [112600]

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Mr. Charles Clarke: The Commissioner informs me that the Metropolitan Police Cadet Corps was disbanded in 1993. Two police officer recruit courses have commenced at Hendon since 1 January; 103 recruits began training on 4 January and 58 on 7 February. Numbers for courses do not have to be limited, because the deployment of Hendon's resources is flexible.

Crime Reduction Partnerships

Mr. Heald: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what reports he has received about the contribution made by (a) social services departments, (b) health authorities and (c) local education authorities to meetings of crime reduction partnerships; and if he will make a statement. [114364]

Mr. Charles Clarke: The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 requires the council and police in every area to work in partnership with a wide range of other agencies, including health authorities, to develop and implement a strategy to reduce crime and disorder in the area. The Act required the first strategies to be in place by April 1999.

The essence of these arrangements is that different agencies should work together in a single partnership and together contribute to the common goal of reducing crime and maintaining safety and good order. We have not called for reports on the contributions made by any specific services, although the Report of the Statutory Partnership Task Force last year drew attention in the course of its survey of a representative sample of 12 partnerships to particular instances of the contributions made by, for example, health and education services.

Disclosure of Evidence Requirements

Mr. Heald: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what reports he has received from police forces about the effect of requirements as to the disclosure of evidence upon the efficient use of police manpower; and if he will make a statement. [114363]

Mr. Charles Clarke: Fair disclosure to an accused of unused prosecution material is an inseparable part of a fair trial. The present disclosure provisions in the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996 came into effect on 1 April 1997. As part of its general responsibility to evaluate new legislation the Government have commissioned an independent research study to evaluate all aspects of the working of the disclosure provisions. This will include an examination of the resource implications for the police as well as prosecutors in carrying out their disclosure responsibilities. The research began at the end of January and will be completed by early next year.

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