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11 Jan 2005 : Column 480W—continued

Female Prisoners

Sandra Gidley: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what the average reconviction rate of female prisoners was in each year since 1997. [206281]

Paul Goggins: The most recent data is given in the table, which shows the percentage of females who were reconvicted of standard list offences within two years of discharge from prison.
Table 1: Rate of reconvictions of female prisoners

Reconviction rate (percentage)

The probability that a discharged prisoner will be reconvicted is strongly associated with a number of factors including age and previous criminal history. The reconviction rates reported for prison discharges have not been adjusted to take into account any changes over time in the characteristics of offenders being given prison sentences.

Sandra Gidley: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many female vulnerable prisoner units there are. [206328]

Paul Goggins: There are no vulnerable prisoner units (VPU) in the female estate as the number of female sex offenders is too small for an estate-wide VPU scheme. While vulnerable women prisoners may be separated from other prisoners for periods of time, the general aim is to reintegrate them into normal prison life as soon as possible and give them support to do so.


Mr. Gerrard: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will introduce a new unit fines system. [206145]

Paul Goggins: The Management of Offenders and Sentencing Bill will contain provisions for a day fine scheme. The proposed scheme will provide a statutory method for calculating fines based upon the seriousness of the offence, measured in terms of the number of days imposed, multiplied by the financial value given to each
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day based on the offender's disposable income. The aim is to provide for greater consistency and fairness so that fines bear more equally on offenders of differing means.

Mr. Gerrard: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make it his policy to ensure that imprisonment cannot be a penalty for non-payment of a fine where imprisonment could not have been imposed as a penalty for the original offence. [206146]

Paul Goggins: Within the broad statutory limits set by Parliament, sentences in individual cases are a matter for the courts alone, taking into account all the circumstances of the offence and the offender. The Government believes that prison sentences should be reserved for those who are either serious, dangerous or seriously persistent offenders. Equally, offenders cannot expect to go unpunished if they fail to pay a fine.

The court may issue a warrant of commitment: if the offender has failed to pay a fine and the court has, since the conviction, enquired into the defaulter's means in his presence on at least one occasion; in the case of an offence punishable with imprisonment, the defaulter appears to the court to have sufficient means to pay the sum forthwith; or the court is satisfied that the default is due to the defaulter's wilful refusal or culpable neglect and the court has considered or tried all other means of enforcing payment of the sum and it appears to the court that they are inappropriate or unsuccessful.

The Courts Act 2004 introduced a number of measures short of imprisonment that could be imposed on offenders in order to enforce fine payment. These include vehicle clamping, credit blacklisting and work for the community. These measures are currently being piloted.


Geraldine Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what the terms were of the proposal which he submitted to the Department of Trade and Industry relating to regulation of gangmasters prior to the Morecambe Bay cockling tragedy. [206084]

Mr. Browne [holding answer 20 December 2004]: During the latter half of 2003, the former Home Secretary my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) raised with colleagues in other Departments, including the Department for Trade and Industry, his general concerns about the role of some labour suppliers in encouraging the use of illegal migrant labour and in breaching other legislation. These discussions took place as part of the normal process of formulating Government policy, and included the possibility of legislative action. The option to introduce measures in the Bill that became the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004 was raised, but a consensus was subsequently reached to support the private Member's Bill introduced by my hon. Friend, the Member for West Renfrewshire (Jim Sheridan).

Identity Cards

Mr. Oaten: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will list the working groups which are tasked with taking forward work on (a) identity cards and (b) biometrics. [206619]

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Mr. Browne: The Identity Cards Programme has a governance structure involving a number of groups both interdepartmental and internal to the Home Office. The groups are: the Strategy Board, Programme Board, Transition Planning Project Board, Principal Users Group and Home Office Multilateral. The Programme is also working closely with key private sector stakeholders who are forming a private sector user group to contribute to the design and development of the scheme.

Associated groups taking forward work on biometric technology are: the Home Office Strategic Identification Systems Group, Inter-departmental Group on Strategic Identification Systems, UK Passport Service Biometrics Trial Programme Board, Immigration Biometric Identification Programme Board, and Immigration and Nationality Biometrics Co-ordination and Strategy Steering Group. A Biometrics Assurance Group under Sir David King Government Chief Scientific Advisor is being established to provide peer review.

Mr. Austin Mitchell: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what arrangements he plans for (a) supply of and (b) charging for identity cards for (i) vagrants, (ii) homeless people, (iii) travellers, (iv) mentally ill people after discharge and (v) prisoners on release. [207026]

Mr. Browne: The Government are clear about the need to ensure those who may have difficulty in obtaining a card are dealt with sympathetically. There is therefore provision in the Identity Cards Bill for regulations to make different requirements for different cases, with exemptions and exceptions.

In developing the detailed processes for the supply of cards to people in these groups, we will carefully examine their specific needs and look to adopt good practice identified by other Government Departments. As part of designing an inclusive scheme, we have also included powers in the Bill to set different levels of fees for identity cards for different circumstances. The final decision on the fee structure and levels of fees will be for Parliament under the powers in clause 37 of the Bill.

Mr. Austin Mitchell: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether it will be an offence not to produce an identity card to authenticate the exchange of information required for car collisions. [207027]

Mr. Browne: It will not be an offence to fail to produce an identity card in these circumstances. Clause 15 (3) of the Identity Cards Bill makes it clear that there will be no future requirement to carry a card. An identity card may be used voluntarily in the circumstances described above, as a proof of identity. It will not however contain any information which relates to the holder's entitlement to drive.

Mr. Austin Mitchell: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether (a) financial institutions, (b) shops and (c) restaurants will be entitled to (i) demand to see identity cards as proof of identity, (ii) check the authenticity of cards produced and (iii) call in the police to check cards in the event of disputes. [207028]

Mr. Browne: The Identity Cards Bill which received its second reading in the House of Commons on 20 December 2004 contains no such provisions.
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Clause 18 of the Bill prohibits any organisation from requiring the production of an identity card as the sole means of proving identity in advance of it being compulsory to register with the scheme. Even after compulsion, there is no means within the Bill to provide powers to private sector organisations to demand the production of an identity card.

In the event that a fraudulent card is found to be in use, the Identity Cards Bill creates new offences relating to possession of a false identity document. This provides that a person in possession of a false identity card with the intention of using it, may be guilty of an offence and liable to a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment.

Mr. Austin Mitchell: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what estimate he has made of the percentage of identity cards likely to be lost or stolen each year. [207029]

Mr. Browne: The current working assumption is that in any one year 2 per cent. of card holders will lose their card or have it stolen. This is a higher rate than currently applies for passports.

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