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21 Jan 2004 : Column 1274W—continued

Illegal Entrants (Amnesties)

Dr. Pugh: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what amnesties in the form of permission to stay have been offered to people who entered the country illegally during the last 15 years; and when. [148148]

Beverley Hughes: There have been no "amnesties" targeted at people who entered illegally in the last 15 years.

On three occasions during that time special exercises have been undertaken to grant leave to people meeting specified criteria. The administrative exercise in 1992–93 granted exceptional leave to remain to 60 per cent. of those refused asylum—possibly over 20,000. There was no announcement to Parliament.

The exercise in 1998, announced to Parliament in 1998, granted leave to those whose claims had been subject to delay in processing.

The focused exercise we announced last October is targeted at families who applied before reforms were made to the appeal system and who have children who are established within our communities.

Immigration Surcharge

Keith Vaz: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department for what reason he is planning to levy a surcharge on those coming to the UK (a) for higher education and (b) to take up employment; what windfall gain this charge is intended to engender; and what his Department means by the term over-cost. [148161]

Beverley Hughes: The Asylum and Immigration Bill includes an enabling power to introduce an over-cost charge for non-asylum applications where there are existing powers to charge. We believe it is fair that people who want to come to the UK to study or take up employment should make a contribution in return for the benefits they receive. Final decisions about the level of any additional fees for different categories of applicant,

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and regarding the timing of their introduction, will be taken only after wide consultation with key stakeholders and other Government Departments.

The term over-cost refers to setting a fee at a rate that exceeds the administrative cost of determining or processing such an application.

Imprisonable Offences

Mrs. Gillan: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many imprisonable offences have been created since 1997. [147354]

Paul Goggins: The Home Office is responsible for aspects of the criminal law, but records of all imprisonable offences enacted in any parliamentary session are not kept centrally. The following information therefore relates only to Home Office measures. 257 imprisonable offences have been created, modified or re-enacted since 1 May 1997.


Mrs. Iris Robinson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will encourage leaders of the Islamic faith in the United Kingdom to support the reform of Islamic law which calls for the death penalty for apostates. [147425]

Beverley Hughes: While the Government does not generally intervene in matters of religious doctrine, I am aware that Islamic teaching places a strong injunction on Muslims to abide by the laws of the society in which they live and that the great majority of Muslims in the United Kingdom are peaceful and law-abiding members of society. The United Kingdom is fortunate in having a number of wise and responsible Muslim religious and community leaders who advocate a peaceful and constructive way of life. The Government has a continuing dialogue with these leaders, as with leaders of other faiths, and shares their aim of resisting and isolating all forms of extremism.

Mrs. Iris Robinson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what measures the Government is taking to protect members of the Islamic faith who convert to Christianity. [147426]

Beverley Hughes: There is already substantial legislation to protect people who are victimised or discriminated against because of their religion. For example, the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1987 already contains provisions which make it a criminal offence to incite or arouse fear of racial or religious hatred. The Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 created new religiously aggravated offences in England and Wales, under which crimes such as assault and criminal damage attract a higher maximum penalty if they are committed because of the victim's religious belief or lack of belief. We would urge any person whose safety or property is threatened because of their religious beliefs or lack of beliefs to report the matter to the police. The Home Office has recently published a response to the report of the House of Lords Select Committee on Religious Offences, in which we have indicated our support in principle for a new offence of incitement to religious hatred in England and Wales.

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Bob Spink: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when a British passport with biometric data and bar coding will be available; and at what cost. [147553]

Beverley Hughes: The United Kingdom Passport Service and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are working on a joint programme to issue electronically enabled passports capable of supporting the applications of facial recognition software. The programme plans to start issuing this new form of passport in mid 2005 with a phased roll out through the remainder of that year. This will be a major technological change and it is important to introduce the new form of passports in a safe and controlled way. The possibility of a pilot using diplomatic passports is also being considered.

All British passports are now issued with a machine readable zone (MRZ) in compliance with ICAO standards; some media reports have described this as a bar code.

The cost of the new passport will depend on the method of embedding the contactless computer chip into the passport book. Four prototype methods have been developed and are subject to durability tests. Information on likely costs will be developed during the pilots.

Bob Spink: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how an applicant for a new British passport will be able to provide biometric information for the passport; and how system security will be guaranteed. [147554]

Beverley Hughes: The new British passport will support facial recognition and the biometric data will be provided by applicants in the form of a photograph. These photographs will need to comply with format standards and new guidance notes are being prepared.

The current security accreditation of passport issuing systems will be maintained and the electronic information stored in the document will be secured by a digital signature at the time of issue.

Bob Spink: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will list the forms of biometric and bar code data that will be encompassed within the new British passport. [147596]

Beverley Hughes: The new British passport, which it is planned will be issued from mid 2005 onwards, will store electronically a portrait or image of the applicant of sufficient resolution to support the application of any form of facial recognition software. In addition, some of the information printed on the biodata page of the passport will also be stored electronically.

This information will be stored on contactless computer chip and will be digitally signed when issued to prevent alteration and confirm authentication.

All British passports already contain a machine readable zone (MRZ) which contains some of the same biodata; some media reports have described this as a bar code.

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Mr. Battle: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will take steps to introduce an exit centre in HM Prison Leeds for people leaving prison, to link addiction, mental health, rehabilitation, education and training procedures inside prison with programmes available outside. [149034]

Paul Goggins: Funding has been secured for the development of a healthy living centre that will draw upon partnerships with the community to provide better opportunities for prisoners to make informed decisions about lifestyle and healthy living. Community partnerships have also been established to build upon housing and employment provision and to improve the opportunity and quality of education. I would be happy to meet my right hon. Friend to discuss how these projects can help achieve the objectives he outlines.

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Tom Cox: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many (a) men and (b) women were (i) serving a life sentence for murder and (ii) category A prisoners on 1 January. [148606]

Paul Goggins: At the end of November 2003, 3,546 males and 133 females were serving a life sentence for murder in prisons in England and Wales.

At the end of November 2003, 951 males and seven females who were in prisons in England and Wales were classified as Category A prisoners.

Joan Ruddock: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what assessment he has made of the reasons for the change in the percentage of remand prisoners who are women convicted and awaiting sentence. [142889]

Paul Goggins: The number and percentage of remand prisoners who are women convicted and awaiting sentence is given in the following table.

Female remand population in custody

Females on remand383395490491538599704748700775945
Convicted unsentenced112110139147167203278313304345449
Convicted unsentenced (23)2928283031343942434547

(23) As a percentage of total female population.


The components do not always add to the totals because they have been rounded independently.

The number of female convicted unsentenced prisoners as a percentage of the total female remand population has increased since 1992; showing a similar increase to the number of male convicted unsentenced prisoners as a percentage of the total male remand population. There are many reasons for this increase. For example, arrangements for plea before venue, as made possible by the Criminal Procedures and Investigations Act 1996 and the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997, were implemented on 1 October 1997. Plea before venue led to offenders pleading guilty earlier than previously and hence spending less time untried and spending proportionately more time convicted unsentenced.

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