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Householders' Rights

5. Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): what plans he has to bring forward proposals to change the law on the rights of householders to defend their property. [205639]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Paul Goggins): Current law makes it clear that a person may use reasonable force in self-defence or in the defence of his or her family or property. However, we recognise that there is public concern in this area and the review of murder will be looking at self-defence in cases where someone dies. In addition, we are looking with the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Crown Prosecution Service to see whether the position needs to be clarified in order to send out a strong message that the law is on the side of the victim, not the offender.

Mr. Bellingham: On 6 December, the Lord Chancellor said that the law relating to householders' rights did not need changing and that he would not support my hon. Friend's Bill. However, on 8 December, the Prime Minister said that it was most likely that he would

A national debate about householders' rights has been raging for six years. When will the Government listen to people and actually have a clear policy?

Paul Goggins: What the Prime Minister did say in the reference that the hon. Gentleman mentions was that

Our starting point is that the current law strikes the correct balance between the rule of law and the right of people to defend themselves. However, there is of course a public confidence issue. We are consulting ACPO and the CPS and we will listen carefully to their advice.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): As there is such widespread public concern, why does not the Minister invite my hon. Friend the Member for
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Newark (Patrick Mercer) to discuss his Bill and what it will contain in order to try to create between them a measure that the whole House can support?

Paul Goggins: We do not intend to invite such discussion, but we look forward with interest—I am sure that that applies to hon. Members of all parties—to the publication of the Bill of the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) and the ensuing debate in the House.

Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): I am sorry that the Under-Secretary does not feel the need to discuss such matters with me face to face, but I probably understand that. The crux of the Bill is the phrase "grossly disproportionate", which is already used and has been enshrined by the Government in civil law as a test for whether one should be able to sue. Will the Under-Secretary explain whether he agrees or disagrees with the use of the phrase for the law that we are considering? In view of the question that my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) asked, whose side is the Under-Secretary on: the Lord Chancellor's or the Prime Minister's?

Paul Goggins: I am not afraid of face-to-face discussion; indeed, I greatly welcome it. That was not the suggestion that the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) made. I am prepared to discuss the specific measure now, from the Dispatch Box and, indeed, at any time, just as I would be prepared to discuss issues with any hon. Member.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the phrase, "grossly disproportionate", and I look forward to other opportunities to hear his definition of the phrase. The Crown Prosecution Service would be required to make a judgment, as it does at the moment, about what constitutes "reasonable". He may be interested in the comment of the Director of Public Prosecutions, who told The Sunday Telegraph that he would look for clear evidence of excessive force before considering a prosecution. If it is not excessive, it is reasonable. That is an excellent starting point for our considerations.

Traffic Police (West Midlands)

6. Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): How many traffic police are operating in Coventry and the west midlands. [205641]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Fiona Mactaggart): I understand from the chief constable of the west midlands that at 30 November there were 302 full-time equivalent dedicated traffic police officers in his force, 38 of whom operated in Coventry. A further 89 full-time equivalent posts are allocated to the central motorway policing group.

Mr. Cunningham: Given that we are entering the Christmas period, will my hon. Friend tell us whether the Department is prepared to hold discussions with the Department for Transport to reduce the number of drink-related accidents in Coventry and the west midlands?
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Fiona Mactaggart: We undertake such work all the time. My hon. Friend will have heard the response of my hon. Friend the Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety to earlier questions about the alcohol campaign this winter. One of our aims in that campaign is to persuade people to avoid alcohol abuse, not only in town centres but when they get behind the wheel of a car, where they can become dangerous. We know that those campaigns can be successful and help to reduce the incidence of driving while under the influence of alcohol.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): Will the Under-Secretary give us the figures for the number of prosecutions in Coventry and the west midlands in the past five years for driving without due care and attention and dangerous driving when under the influence of alcohol? Will she compare those with the figures for the number of people caught speeding in the area?

Fiona Mactaggart: I do not have those precise figures, but we know that the new technology that we are using increases significantly the number of people who can be arrested for a range of offences while driving. Automatic number plate recognition—ANPR—technology has been rolled out in the west midlands and 13,500 people have been arrested for offences that include theft and burglary. Prosecutions of those who have been caught for speeding increased substantially as speed cameras were introduced. In practice, as they have the deterrent effect of which they are capable, the peak of arrests for speeding has begun to decline. The number of court proceedings in the past couple of years reduced from 154,000 to 150,000 to 144,000. Speed cameras are beginning to work.

Identity Cards

7. John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD): What his latest estimate is of the total cost of the identity cards project. [205642]

The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration (Mr. Desmond Browne): The cost of biometric passports is estimated to be £415 million per annum by 2008–09. Re-using that passport infrastructure for ID cards will save money on issuing both separately. For United Kingdom citizens, the cost of operating ID cards, on top of passport costs, is £85 million. We estimate an additional £50 million per annum to provide verification services.

In addition, as we set out in November 2003, we estimate set-up costs in the first three years to be £186 million. There will be some additional costs beyond this period. We are continuing to work on these estimates and will inform the House when we are in a position to provide updated figures.

John Barrett: People throughout this country want to see the Government fighting crime, dealing with terrorists and reducing fraud and illegal immigration. Will the Minister explain why he is not spending that massive amount of money on more police, efficient
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security services and enough customs officers to do the job, instead of this ID scheme, which is a piece of plastic and a massive waste of money?

Mr. Browne: With respect to the hon. Gentleman, he uses a phrase that he gets from his colleague, the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten), which he has been trotting out in the media all morning—this ID scheme is a piece of plastic. Of course it is not a piece of plastic. It is an ID card supported by a modern database, which will collect biographical information in relation to people and match it to their biometric information to give a gold standard of identity. That will be expensive, but the collection of the biometrics is required to let people have the sort of travel documents that they will need for the 21st century, so that work will have to be done in any event.

It would be a dereliction of the Government's duty if, in doing that work, we did not take advantage of being able to secure the identity of the citizens of the United Kingdom to do just the things that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett) encourages us to do, which are tackling serious crime, terrorism, illegal immigration and illegal working, but, most of all, to give the people of this country what they want—80 per cent. of them tell us they want it—which is a secure form of identity.

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow) (Lab): Can my hon. Friend give us an example of a major Government IT project that has both come in on cost and worked?

Mr. Browne: All Governments have faced challenges in relation to developing IT programmes that serve the needs of the people of this country. I am sure that the Opposition spokesman on my area of responsibility probably goes red every time he thinks of the wasted money that the last Government incurred in relation to an IT scheme for immigration and nationality: they sacked half the workers before they brought it in and it then had to be scrapped because it did not work.

Increasingly, however, there are IT schemes that are working and delivering. The best example in my area of responsibility is the UK Passport Service, which has a database of 44 million people and provides a first-class service.

David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend aware that some of us had hoped that the new Home Secretary would reassess the position on identity cards, including cost, instead of making woolly-minded attacks on those of us who have considerable doubts about whether an identity card scheme will do any good whatever? Will he bear it in mind that continental countries with identity cards have the same problems of illegal working, illegal immigration and the rest of it, which clearly have not been resolved by identity cards?

Mr. Browne: My right hon. Friend is well known to be a supporter of identity cards and was before he became Home Secretary. It was highly unlikely that in his early days as Home Secretary he would want to rethink a policy that he was already committed to.

My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (David Winnick) raises an issue that is yet another great Opposition canard in this debate: that identity cards do
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not help other countries—for example, in their fight against terrorism. He always trots out the argument that the Spaniards had the Madrid bomb and they also have identity cards, but he has not asked the Spanish Government whether identity cards helped them to confront terrorism. I have, and they tell me that they do. Spain has 700 convicted terrorists in prison and is very successful in its use of identity cards to interdict terrorism.

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