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6.50 pm

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): I should declare an interest of sorts, in that back in about 1994, I was in my rather swish open-topped sports car, stopped at traffic lights on the A40 waiting to go on to the M40 to go up to Lichfield, when I was mugged for my analogue mobile phone. I can assure the hon. and learned Member for Dudley, North (Ross Cranston) that whether or not the crime is violent, having one's mobile phone stolen is indeed a traumatic event.

I want to make it clear that I, too, welcome the Bill. It is a good move, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) said, it is no panacea. First, as has been pointed out, even if the IMEI chip is re-programmed, nothing has changed that will make the mobile phone impossible to use. I was pleased to hear the Minister say that there are moves afoot to encourage international mobile phone manufacturers to embed the IMEI number more securely, so that it cannot be changed using equipment that is readily available. Make no mistake about it: the equipment needed to change an IMEI chip is readily available from Tandy's and many other electrical stores.

I have to correct the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), who said that the software can be downloaded from the internet for a small charge; in fact, it can be downloaded free of charge. I am concerned about how easy it is to change an IMEI number provided one knows

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a little about chip programming. The hon. Gentleman mentioned his concern that heavy penalties might fall on younger people, especially those who practise hacking. I am sure that judges will take such matters into account, but I am certain that these things are often done by 15 and 16-year-olds who, far from being in a factory, are in their bedroom while their parents are watching television downstairs.

The Minister made an interesting remark when he said that some investigation had been done into whether the IMEI number could be tagged up—linked to—the telephone number. I understand that the Minister has to go by what manufacturers and telephone companies tell him, but I am not wholly convinced that that cannot be done. Clearly, a much wider database would be required, but if the IMEI number had to be linked to the telephone number, changing the IMEI number would result in the phone being disabled—unless it was being used with the right SIM card; and as others have pointed out, the SIM card is not used for reasons that we already know.

One good thing on the horizon is the introduction of third-generation telephony, which will have such safeguards built in, but that is a long way off. I urge the Minister to visit one of perhaps only two places in the world where 3G telephony is operating. He could spend a great deal of taxpayers' money on visiting Tokyo, where there is a 3G network, or he could stay closer to home and visit the Isle of Man, where O2 is running an experiment. I can see the Minister weighing up the attractions of sushi and the local delicacies of Douglas, Isle of Man. I know that O2 has taken on board the very issues that I have mentioned.

The Minister, answering my intervention, addressed the question of phones being exported. As my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield and others have said, there would be a problem if it were only the UK that enacted this type of legislation—and given the agreement on both sides of the House, I am confident that on Wednesday the Bill will be enacted. If that were so, all we would do is repeat the experience of IR35, whereby people started billing for services abroad. People would start exporting phones overseas. Nor is it simply a question of getting agreement in Europe: the area affected covers anywhere GSM networks can be used, which includes Africa, the far east and Australasia, as well as, if we are talking about tri-band telephones, north, central and south America. Unless worldwide agreement is secured, phones will simply be re-programmed outside the UK—and that is assuming that people will be sufficiently deterred by the legislation not to re-programme them here in the UK.

Mr. Hendrick: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the desirable features of modern telephony that system designers try to include is telephone number portability—the facility that enables people who lose their telephone to continue to use their number on another handset? That facility would not be possible if the number were hardwired to a chip inside the phone.

Michael Fabricant: The hon. Gentleman is right to a certain extent. Yes, it would not be possible to take out the SIM card—although if the phone were stolen, the SIM card would be gone, too—and put it in another phone. Instead, owners would have to register with the company the fact that they now had a new phone. However, that is the only thing that they would have to do; they would still

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have portability. The trade-off would be having to make a telephone call, set against the advantage of its being less likely that one's phone would be nicked. Personally, I think that people would be happy to accept that.

Andrew Bennett (Denton and Reddish): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that we might be becoming too enthusiastic about the Bill? Although it might stop people pinching mobile phones for the sake of the phones themselves, most people committing a street mugging are likely to take the phone simply because it is the means by which the person who has been attacked can summon help quickly. The danger is that a lot of mobile phones stolen on the street will end up being simply "whizzed"—thrown away—which could have considerable environmental consequences if they ended up in watercourses and similar places.

Michael Fabricant: The hon. Gentleman has introduced an interesting new element into the debate. It would be interesting to know how many of the 470,000 mobile phone thefts or attempted thefts in 2000 were committed for the intrinsic value of the telephone, and how many for the very reason that he gives—to prevent the person who has been mugged from using their phone to summon help. Perhaps the Minister will be able to answer that question when he winds up the debate.

I am concerned about the burden of proof. Although I endorse the presumption that one is innocent until proven guilty, I sometimes think that too many guilty people get off in this country. The Minister says, rightly, that under clause 2 a person cannot be prosecuted simply for having

That is because the same equipment can be used to programme chips in general. Many people who are interested in re-programming software devices own that equipment, which can cost as little as £20 or £30, and, as I said, the re-programming software is available for downloading free of charge. Clause 2 contains the additional burden of having to prove intention—mens rea, or guilty mind. Although that is good, because we do not want people to be prosecuted when they are innocent, I wonder whether that will mean that the burden of proof will be so great that the provision will not be as much of a deterrent as we would like.

I welcome the Bill; it is a useful first step. I praise the Minister for his good work in persuading O2 and Vodafone to introduce the software. I hope that he is right that the software and the hardware will be operational by September, although I am not totally convinced that it will be. Once we pass the Bill, the right hon. Gentleman's next step must be to tour the world to ensure that all parts that have GSM—that is, most countries—have similar legislation. Otherwise, all that we will find is that the stolen equipment will be exported.

7 pm

Mr. Grieve: I had not really intended to say anything at the conclusion of the debate, but the comments of the hon. and learned Member for Dudley, North (Ross Cranston) prompted me to do so. Properly, he widened the scope of

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the debate, as one is allowed to do on Second Reading, in order to consider in a more general way some of the problems connected with robbery that we might be experiencing.

I do not share the hon. and learned Gentleman's view that we are considering an inflated figure that does not reflect the reality on the ground, and that we should be guided by the British crime survey rather than the police's own statistics. We have statistics that show a 4.3 per cent. rise in reported violent crime and a 12.9 per cent. increase in the number of robberies in the year to March 2001. Therefore, there is a significant and real problem.

Furthermore, although I fully accept that statistics might be misleading, one has only to look at what I would describe as localised figures, as I know from my constituency. My constituency has had an extremely low robbery rate historically, as one might expect of an area outside London and not encompassing a large urban centre. The rise in robbery in my constituency in the same 12-month period has been of the order of 70 or 80 per cent. I cannot remember the exact figure.

Taken overall, those figures are significant and appear to reflect a worrying trend. There is a willingness—perhaps born of the fact that burglary has become more difficult for those who want easy pickings—to confront an individual in the street and threaten them with violence. I am sure that the Minister would agree that the fact that violence might not be used does not detract one iota from the traumatic nature of the experience suffered.

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