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20 Dec 2004 : Column 1498W—continued


Category A Prisoners

19. Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what measures he has taken to prevent escapes of Category A prisoners. [205655]

Paul Goggins: A wide range of security measures are taken by the Prison Service to prevent escapes of Category A prisoners. These include physical security, heightened searching arrangements, close movement control, as well as intelligence gathering and close cooperation with other agencies.

There have been no escapes of category A prisoners since 1995.

Women Prisoners

21. Ms Munn: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to reduce the number of women serving short-term prison sentences. [205657]

Paul Goggins: The Women's Offending Reduction Programme, published in March 2004, is focused on improving community based interventions for women in order to encourage a greater use of community disposals rather than short prison sentences. This work is set in the context of the new sentencing framework which aims to ensure that custody is reserved only for the most serious and persistent offenders.

Identity Cards

22. Mr. Carmichael: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the estimated cost of an identity card scheme. [205658]

Mr. Browne: The cost of biometric passports is estimated to be £415 million per annum by 2008–09. Reusing passport infrastructure for ID cards saves money on issuing both separately. The cost of introducing ID cards for UK citizens on top of passport cost 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.

Mr. Bill O'Brien: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will publish the conclusions of the Home Office Science and Technology Reference Group's examination of the identity cards programme. [201413]

Mr. Browne: The Home Office Science and Technology Reference group has not reached any conclusions about the Identity Cards Programme. The Group recognises there are a number of scientific and technical challenges that the programme will be tackling and it will be following up its initial discussion of the Identity Cards Programme at a later date. This is in addition to the follow-up discussions already held between some members of the Science and Technology Reference Group and Identity Card Programme staff.
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The Government's Chief Scientific Adviser will also be chairing an external panel to provide systematic peer review of the scientific and technical advice provided to the Identity Cards Programme.

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what entitlement British nationals who are long-term residents abroad will have to the identity cards proposed by the Government. [202658]

Mr. Browne: The Identity Cards scheme is for British citizens resident in the UK and foreign nationals resident for more than three months. British citizens resident overseas will only need to obtain a card at such time as they return to live in the UK.

Mr. Bill O'Brien: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department on how many occasions in the last two years (a) he, (b) his Ministers and (c) officials in his Department have met (i) Aurora Computer Services Ltd. and (ii) other companies involved in providing biometric technology. [203029]

Mr. Browne: According to our records the Identity Cards Programme has not had any formal meetings with Aurora Computer Services Ltd. However, this does not exclude the possibility that Home Office officials have encountered this company when they have attended, or spoken at, conferences or other such meetings. The Identity Cards Programme has met with a range of companies, including those involved in providing biometric technology, as part of its market sounding activities and anticipates meeting with many more before a formal procurement is announced. Market sounding is the process of assessing the reaction of the market to a proposed requirement and procurement approach, and is recognised as best practice in Government procurement.

Market sounding focuses on suppliers as a whole, rather than the merits of individual suppliers. It includes no element of supplier selection (choosing suitable suppliers) or bid evaluation (looking at proposals, technical solutions or prices). There is no commitment of any kind involved—on either side nor any advantage to be gained by a supplier by getting involved. Further it is stressed that there is no formal procurement under way at the moment as the Identity Cards Bill is still before Parliament. Priority for market sounding to date has been given to the smartcard and biometric sectors where the technology is developing quickly, standards are evolving and there is uncertainty about future trends.

Mr. Bill O'Brien: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what research he has conducted into the potential benefits of a national identity database for combating (a) crime and (b) illegal immigration; and if he will make a statement. [203030]

Mr. Browne: A Regulatory Impact Assessment was published at the time of the introduction of the Identity Cards Bill. This set out in detail the potential benefits of the identity cards scheme including the National Identity Register, in combating crime and illegal immigration. This analysis was the result of discussions with key user groups, stakeholders and the consultations that we have undertaken on the principle of identity cards as well as the draft Identity Cards Bill over the past two and a half years.
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The identity cards scheme will contribute in the following ways to combating crime: helping to disrupt the support networks of organised criminal operations which rely extensively on the use of multiple identities; encouraging verifiable proof of identity when conducting major financial transactions; providing the capability for law enforcement agencies to be provided with information from the National Identity Register, subject to appropriate authorisation procedures and independent oversight; enabling more efficient use of police resources when dealing with routine identification of individuals with their consent; and checking of fingerprint biometric information at scenes of crime in unsolved cases.

The identity cards scheme will also reduce the illegal immigration "pull factor" by providing a straightforward means to record and verify the immigration status of all residents aged 16 and over. This will allow service providers and employers to make checks more easily without specialised knowledge of immigration rules.

Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to combat the production of counterfeit identity cards in the event of the introduction of identity cards. [201813]

Mr. Browne [holding answer 7 December 2004]: The Identity Cards Bill published on 29 November, includes at Clause 27 new offences relating to making or possessing false identity documents such as UK, and foreign, identity cards, passports and driving licences. These offences include not only "false" documents as defined in the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981 but also to documents that belong to another person or that have been improperly obtained.

Where it is proved that a person has intent to use these documents, a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment would apply. Where there is no intent, but the accused has no reasonable excuse for having such documentation in his possession, a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment will apply. The introduction of these penalties will ensure that the police are able to take action against those who attempt to produce false identity cards.

In addition, the introduction of a sophisticated identity checking process, coupled with the recording of biometric information which is unique to an individual will counter attempts by a person to obtain more than one identity card under different names.

In its response to the Home Affairs Committee report on Identity Cards (Cm6359), the Government said that it would examine the feasibility of whether the verification service should operate predominantly in an on-line mode. Even if a good quality forged identity card was produced, it would be detected by on-line verification as there would be no associated record held on the National Identity Register against which its validity could be confirmed.

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