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Mr. Clapham: Does my hon. Friend agree that the crime and disorder partnerships are helping to forge a new culture and at the same time providing for greater co-operation between local authorities and the police, which is having a positive and effective impact at local level?
I entirely agree. The partnerships play a vital role in tackling some of the issues on our estates. In my constituency, the police, landowners and the local authority came together to set up a Travellers management unit, as we were having to deal with 150 illegal encampments each week. It was costing the local authority £300,000-plus to clean up after the Travellers. A police sergeant was put in charge of the unit, and he can now use the powers of the police, landowners or the local authorityhe has the choice. Therefore, instead of somebody complaining about an incident having to go to the police, then the local authority and then the landowners, they can go to one number and one person can take effective action.
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The unit was also able to deal with the health and education needs of the Travellers' children. We now have no new illegal encampments each week, and the total cost of cleansing was £325 for last year. That has been a successful example of the different agencies working together to tackle an antisocial behaviour problem. The Travellers who are abiding by a code of conduct are welcome, while those who were causing the problem have gone. Most of the problems have been solved, so much so that we now get cross-border issues from neighbouring Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire, but that is a matter of dealing with those authorities. Such an approach can and does work, and my hon. Friend is right that it is a key to tackling the issues.
As a former Customs officer, I have an interest in the Bill on merging Customs and the Inland Revenue. I was around in Customs at the time when they had just brought in other Government Departments or OGDs, as they are called, and were allowing members of the civil service to work in Customs. I remember the resistance to such an approach at that time, and I urge Front-Bench colleagues not to underestimate the complexity of merging Customs and the Inland Revenue.
When mergers happen, it is important that we get the culture of the new organisation right at the beginning. If we do not do so, there will be problems. It is important that we set out what it is essential to get right straight away and what can wait for the long term. We must give people the skills to deal with constant change and recognise the dangers that are involved in the merger. We should get the computer systems right and recognise that there are things that the Revenue does differently from Customs and from the Treasury. We must also recognise that there are important issues of culture in the different organisations and that we need to get them right if there is to be a successful merger. I welcome the Bill and the work that the Select Committee on the Treasury has done on this matter, which I think will benefit us in the long run. It is not a simple process, however, and we should not underestimate it.
I also welcome the fact that the Government are introducing a railways Bill. I certainly welcome the abolition of the Strategic Rail Authority. The problem with the SRA was that it was not listening to passengers, so the new arrangement that the Government are introducing must have at its core a strengthening of the passengers' voice and a listening role, so that passengers' wishes are held to be important. That will be key in delivering for my constituency, where the SRA has simply removed a number of peak-time trains without listening to people. One of the ways in which I shall judge whether the Bill is successful is by looking at whether those trains are reinstated for both inward and outward Milton Keynes commuters. I hope that they will be.
: I hoped that the SRA would deliver some stability for the railway industry. One of the issues that applies across a number of regulators is how we should reconcile an independent regulator with
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Government policy. I was looking for independence and long-term thinking that was away from the day-to-day management of the railway, but the SRA did not deliver that, which is why I welcomed its abolition. It did not do the key thing that it needed to dohave the voice of the passenger at its heart. That was its key failing, and I think that the new arrangement has to have that role at its core. I hope that the in-built accountability to the Secretary of State will ensure that the passenger's voice is at the core of the new arrangements.
We need to reflect on whether this is the right way in which to tackle fraud or terrorism, given that if one can forge a passport, one can forge an ID card. Identity fraud has increased in every country that has introduced an ID card system. Going back to the 1970s, it took so long to catch the Baader-Meinhof gang because they had valid identities within the system, which recognised them as ordinary people, not terrorists. There is a danger of having too much data and not enough information, and certain skills are required to deal with that. Introducing ID cards as a panacea for fraud or terrorism will not workthe way forward is to do it so as to benefit people.
We may end up creating a Betamax system when there is already a VHS system in the private sector. The main problem is the cost of readers. The credit card industry is creating cards that hold a lot of information, and we should piggy-back on that technology. Creating our own ID cards, with readers capable of reading biometrics, will be expensive, and we could find ways of doing it in conjunction with the private sector instead of reinventing the wheel through an in-house system.
The largest biometric database in the world has about 500,000 records; here, we will reach 48 million in 10 years. Such a scaling-up of the technology has not yet happened, and I question whether it is possible in such a time scale. I fear that we are being overawed by the technology instead of recognising its limits.
Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): If the hon. Gentleman thinks that identity cards are useful only in relation to benefits, the health service and the like, does he think that the system is worth the £3 billion that its implementation will cost?
Brian White: That is why I said that there are already reader systems that we can use: we do not to have to spend that kind of money on reinventing them. One of the dangers of introducing the system in-house is that by the time it is up and running private sector technology will be way ahead. Taking the "one big bang" approach is problematic.
Capturing terrorists, like crime solving, is about doing the basics wellit will not be achieved by the magic panacea of an ID card. Given the growth of identity theft and the misuse of people's identities to create bank accounts or to defraud the benefits system, ID cards are a useful way of establishing identity, but they are not a solution to the problem of terrorism.
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Questions arise about the data. Who owns themthe state or the individual? Who has the right to make corrections? How does one resolve problems where mistakes have occurred? No one biometricnot even iris recognitionis 100 per cent. certain. DNA identification is certain, but expensive and time-consuming. The principle of ID cards is important, but the right technology is not yet available, and we must ensure that we do not fall into the bear traps that I have identified.
Mr. Michael Weir (Angus) (SNP): The ID card is being proposed as a panacea for many problems, but if it is to work, the new systems will all have to link together. Is that a practical proposition? Does it not raise other problems of sharing data between various systems that are supposed to perform different functions?
Brian White: Having written data sharing systems when I worked in the information technology industry a long time ago, I know that there are key issues that need to be resolved in that regard. That can be done, and it is important that it should be done within the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Freedom of Information Act 2000. There are practical issues to be tackled, as I am trying to point out to the Minister, but the principle of having an ID card is one that I welcome. I already carry a lot of different proofs of identitymany of us dobut we do not have a single national identity card. There are twice as many national insurance numbers as people, and more driving licences than there are people who drive. These are real issues that need to be tackled, and a single identity card has a role to play. What we do not have is a use for all those ID cards that would make people's access to public services better, and I am arguing that we should make a case for that to happen.
That brings me to the Bill on serious organised crime and the police. If there is one Bill that we need to get through in this Session, this is it. It is vital that we establish the serious organised crime agencythe "British FBI". The national high-tech crime unit is doing a number of things very well, but we need an organisation to merge that work with that of the Customs and Excise investigation division to tackle organised crime. It is equally important that we re-engage with the community at local level on these issues.
I would draw the Minister's attention to one further problem. If the Government successfully prosecute someone under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, they get the costs of the court case paid for, as well as getting the assets of the person who has been convicted. However, the arrangements are different for a local authority. Waltham Forest is the classic example. It took some people to court in a case involving intellectual property rights, and the judge rightly ordered the seizure of their assets under the Act. The local authority was not entitled to costs, however, because there was no money available. If the Government could extend to local authorities and the private sector the ability to cover the costs of bringing such a prosecution out of the seizure of assets, it would go a long way towards ensuring that other organisations, such as trading standards, could do their job properly. That is a loophole that needs to be dealt with.
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I would also argue that we need to increase the role of special constables. Why is not every director of security in a bank also a special constable, for example? When they came across international fraud or money laundering, they would then have the power to take the appropriate action and to present their evidence to the police. Why should they have to rely on calling in the police? If they were special constables themselves, they could use those powers. That is what happens in Canada, and we should introduce such measures for our banks, internet service providers and other such organisations.
There is also a major problem of skills shortages in the justice system. There are only 240 computer forensic officers in our police forces. If we are serious about tackling organised crime, we need to get the resources into what have traditionally been regarded as the Cinderella services, and I would argue strongly that we need massively to increase the resources going into that particular area. We also need to recognise the international aspect of this problem, and to ensure that issues of jurisdiction are tackled.
Finally, I welcome the inquiries Bill. The Select Committee on Public Administration, of which I am a member, has been conducting an inquiry into inquiries recently, and has heard evidence from people such as Lord Hutton and Lord Laming, who have conducted inquiries. They have raised a number of issues that I hope that the Government will take on board from our report. They involve such matters as terms of reference, how the chair is selected, and the kind of secretarial support available. They also involve a review of recommendations, and of how an inquiry's recommendations are acted on. I would argue that there is also a greater role for Parliament in that Bill.
I hope that the Queen's Speech goes a long way towards reconnecting us with our communities. Several Bills in it benefit our constituencies. It will tackle some fears about security, and it also has an important role to play in ensuring that opportunities are taken advantage of, which the Government need to hammer on about regularly. As the Queen's Speech identifies, there are tremendous opportunities for this country, but we need the right security context.
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