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Restorative Justice

4. Norman Lamb (North Norfolk) (LD): If he will make a statement on his Department's policy on restorative justice. [6855]

The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Mr. Tony McNulty): The Government strongly support the use of restorative justice, because of its proven benefits to victims and communities affected by crime. Our restorative justice strategy was first published in July 2003. In March this year, we published guidance to all local criminal justice boards encouraging them to develop restorative justice in their area, as part of their service to victims.

Norman Lamb: May I thank the Minister for that encouraging response? May I raise a case in my constituency of a shop owner whose window was smashed? The perpetrator ended up receiving a caution, and the police told the shop owner to recover the cost of the damage from his insurance company. Surely some way of requiring the offender to pay for the cost of the damage, as part of the caution arrangement, would have been much better.

Mr. McNulty: There could have been a prosecution and subsequently a compensation order in the normal way. Through the strategy, however, we are trying to ensure that where there is evidence that restorative justice works well, it is implemented. We are also trying to build up the evidentiary base through research to prove that restorative justice is applicable in such cases.

Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): Restorative justice is one of those concepts that I am sure that many Members, on both sides of the House, will hope is effective. Does the Minister have any evidence that it works?

Mr. McNulty: There is clear evidence that the hon. Gentleman does not listen to the answers given. I have just said that one of the key elements of the strategy is to build up and develop an evidence base on best practice to ensure high standards of delivery and effectiveness. As and when that happens, a programme will be rolled out. In terms of international comparisons, all the evidence thus far suggests that it works. Of course, we need to build up the evidentiary base. If that is his bid for leadership, I suggest that he does not bother.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): As the Minister knows or ought to know, far too many people go into prison not being able to read and write, and far too many come out of prison not being able to read and write. What is he doing about that as far as restorative justice is concerned?

Mr. McNulty: As and when, perhaps at subsequent Question Times, the hon. and learned Gentleman comes up with a question that refers to restorative justice rather than penal policy, I will answer it.
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5. Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab/Co-op): If he will make a statement on levels of volunteering. [6856]

7. Ms Diana R. Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, North) (Lab): If he will make a statement on levels of volunteering. [6859]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Paul Goggins): The most recent Home Office citizenship survey showed that just under 20 million people regularly volunteered in their communities in England in 2003. That is up from around 18.4 million in 2001.

Jim Dobbin: Many volunteers work in community centres, bowling clubs and youth clubs at the heart of the community. Does the Minister agree that it is a struggle for Government, and local government, to provide good-quality services to local communities? Will he encourage local government to continue that financing, because when budgets need to be corrected, the voluntary sector is often first in line for cuts?

Paul Goggins: May I begin my answer by offering you, Mr. Speaker, and the House an apology for having provided some incorrect information during a debate in Westminster Hall, on Thursday afternoon, on volunteering? I indicated that 17.5 million people regularly volunteered in their communities—it was a good debate, but none of us can claim the credit for having increased those numbers by 2.5 million over the weekend. Following the debate on Thursday, I had some further work done, and the figure is 20 million, not 17.5 million.

The estimated value of voluntary effort in this country is some £45 billion, but money could not buy the imagination, commitment and dedication of volunteers. My hon. Friend is right: any sensible local authority will invest in the voluntary and community sector, and in volunteering. Volunteers help to find practical solutions to problems, and help people to engage with issues in their communities.

Ms Johnson: When trying to increase volunteer participation, will the Minister take account of the experience of the Humberside police force, which has the fastest-growing special constable scheme in the country? It is using a bounty of £1,500 per annum, payable to special constables, and Hull residents are given a 50 per cent. council tax reduction. Will the Minister comment on that?

Paul Goggins: I am very interested in that information. I will consider it carefully, although I know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is already aware of the details of the scheme.

There are 12,500 special constables in the country, and they add significantly to community safety. We have 10,000 volunteers working with offenders, both in prisons and in the community. All those people add value to our public services in a relevant and practical way.
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Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): Does the Minister not find himself in a slightly awkward position? While he and his Department encourage people to volunteer, his colleagues in other Departments place barriers in the way of volunteers. I am thinking particularly of those in village halls and sports clubs who are concerned about the new duties that they will have under the Licensing Act 2003, and those who are collecting money for multiple sclerosis centres and therapy centres. They are having to use the money that they raise on the streets to pay for a 300 per cent. increase in inspection charges. How does the Minister intend to encourage people to volunteer when other people in Government are making life difficult for them? Whatever happened to joined-up thinking?

Paul Goggins: There is a strong commitment across Government to volunteering. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is well aware of that. I can tell him that Volunteering England is currently involved in a project to develop opportunities for people to volunteer in rural areas.

I agree that some groups in society find obstacles and barriers in their way. I am thinking especially of older people who want to volunteer, and of young and disabled people. I assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that we will continue to break down these barriers, so that such people can also contribute to their local communities.

Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): Can the Minister define a volunteer? If there are really 20 million, that suggests that every other adult in the country is a volunteer; yet we constantly hear and read about youth organisations that are desperate for leaders. What is the Government's definition of a volunteer?

Paul Goggins: The 20 million figure relates to people in England who, at least once a month, engage in voluntary activity—unpaid—in their communities. Sometimes it takes place with a formal group, sometimes it is informal. The hon. Gentleman is right, however: we should celebrate the fact that so many men and women, including young people, engage in such voluntary activity.

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): I congratulate the Minister on the large increase in the number of volunteers. As he knows, one problem for the voluntary and community sector is the high cost of insurance. During the last Parliament, a working group looked at insurance and the voluntary sector. What progress will be made in the current Parliament?

Paul Goggins: My hon. Friend is right to identify the issue as one on which the last Parliament focused. We are continuing to focus on it. Volunteering England and the Association of British Insurers are working to ensure that risk can be faced and that policies are affordable, and we are making it clear in the Compensation Bill that when people take reasonable care, they should not be liable for untoward incidents.
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Identity Cards

6. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): What cost-benefit analysis of the identity card scheme has been undertaken. [6858]

14. Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): What cost-benefit analysis he has undertaken of the Government's scheme for the introduction of identity cards. [6866]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Andy Burnham): A strategic outline case for the identity card scheme produced in November 2003 confirmed that the benefits of the scheme outweighed the costs. There are benefits to public services, the private sector and individual citizens. More details will be provided on Second Reading tomorrow.

David Taylor: The alleged benefits of identity cards are minimal in fighting benefit fraud and terrorism, non-existent in fighting illegal immigration and identity theft, and negative in tackling crime. Moreover, the associated estimated costs are spiralling to levels that could fund 400 affordable homes in every constituency, or finance for six months every general practitioner, teacher and nurse. Given those points, does the Minister believe that the Prime Minister was right, at his second party conference as our leader, to reject identity cards as a total non-starter?

Andy Burnham: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his helpful question. Neither the Prime Minister nor I have ever said that ID cards are a panacea for all the ills that society faces, but I hope that my hon. Friend accepts that the good running of society depends on the   secure identification of individuals. Millions of transactions occur every day, and the old methods, involving passport photos and signatures, are no longer good enough to rely on because they are not sufficiently robust. Giving every citizen the opportunity to secure their personal data through the use of a fingerprint or eye scan will provide better protection from fraud, and give them more peace of mind.

Lynne Jones: What changes to the unpublished 2003 analysis have been made as a result of the Government's recent decision to move to three separate biometrics systems instead of two—as was originally planned—once they realised the high failure rate of separate biometrics? Will the Government also ensure that before tomorrow's debate, I receive replies to my six written questions—they are a week overdue—and to my five other questions, which have been outstanding for four days?

Andy Burnham: I do not accept my hon. Friend's point about the high failure rate of biometric systems. The fingerprinting of visa applicants is already taking place and is helping the immigration authorities to tackle illegal immigration. Such systems are already in use throughout the world and I do not accept that they have a high failure rate. As my hon. Friend will know, we published in the regulatory impact assessment a figure for running costs of £584 million a year. We stand by that figure, much of which is taken up by the cost of
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rolling out the biometric passport system. In respect of the questions that my hon. Friend has tabled on this issue, I am sure that we owe her the courtesy of a reply in time for tomorrow's debate.

Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds) (Con): Reports at the weekend stated, incredibly, that Home Office Ministers might be considering giving EDS, the computer company responsible for the tax credit shambles, a role in introducing the ID card scheme. Will the Minister tell us today whether the Home Office is actually considering giving this company that important job?

Andy Burnham: As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Bill in question will be before Parliament tomorrow. For the scheme to proceed, we must first have the legislative basis, and decisions will be taken about procurement at that stage. To say now that a particular company has preferred status would be ridiculous speculation.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): Is it true that the estimated cost of ID cards rose from £85 to £93 because the Home Secretary forgot to add VAT?

Andy Burnham: No, it is not. The cost went up because the sensible step was taken to build in a higher contingency, which will ensure that the scheme can be rolled out in such a way as to deliver what we want. I should point out to the hon. Gentleman that the figure before the House—a unit cost of £93—is not for an ID card alone but for a biometric passport as well. He, his constituents and I will want to have such a passport; indeed, they will have to have one in order to travel in future. That is a sensible cost for the two documents together.

Geraldine Smith (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that if ID cards are to be fully effective, they will have to be compulsory? Does he also agree that if, as I suspect, this legislation is the first step towards compulsory ID cards, all costs should be met from general taxation?

Andy Burnham: My personal view is that the scheme will realise its full benefits to society when the entire population is covered. But as my hon. Friend knows, the Bill before the House tomorrow makes it clear that it is for this House and the other place to decide whether—if ever—participation in the scheme should be a compulsory requirement for every citizen of this country.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): Will the Under-Secretary confirm that, today, he received an independent report from the London School of Economics that concluded that the ID card proposals were too complex, technically unsafe, over-prescriptive, lacked a foundation of public trust and confidence and would cost between £12 billion and £19 billion? Why should we disbelieve an independent expert study of that kind?

Andy Burnham: We have received the report. The hon. Gentleman used the word "independent" and, as a former spin doctor myself, I am highly impressed by the way in which the contents of the report have been
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assiduously leaked over the past few weeks. We neither recognise nor accept the figures published in the report. The figures that we have put before the House take into account the current running costs of the UK Passport Service and the need to roll out the biometric capturing equipment that will be required for this country to move towards a biometric passport. Others must judge when they see the LSE report in its full glory, but we simply do not recognise many of its assumptions and costs.

      Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): Will the Under-Secretary confirm that residents of the Irish Republic who commute into Northern Ireland, or by aeroplane to London, cannot and will not be required to have either an ID card or a passport? If so, surely that drives a coach and horses through the Bill unless or until Dail Eireann decides to introduce identical legislation. I asked this at Second Reading and was brushed off. Will he try not to do that this afternoon?

      Andy Burnham: We are introducing a UK-wide scheme and, at this stage, there is no expectation that people would have to have an ID card to travel into Northern Ireland from the Republic of Ireland. He asked whether such people would need a passport, but that is an issue about immigration controls at that border. I can tell my hon. Friend that the Irish Republic is also looking at biometric systems of identification and it would be sensible if the two systems were closely aligned.

      David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): May I bring the Under-Secretary back to the question from the Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable)? Why should the House believe the estimates of the Home Office, which has a dreadful record on cost overruns and waste on IT projects, against not one but two independent reports, both of which say that the cost will be more than £15 billion?

      Andy Burnham: I read the right hon. Gentleman's article in The Mail on Sunday yesterday, in which he confirmed his opposition in principle to ID cards, following his comments on antisocial behaviour orders. If he fails in his leadership bid, the right hon. Gentleman will be well placed for a role at Liberty. I do not accept that the Home Office has a dreadful record. The UK Passport Service is one of the most efficient operations in this country. It currently holds a database of accurate records on more than 44 million people and issues passports quickly and effectively. I do not accept the right hon. Gentleman's premise that the Home Office, and the Government in general, cannot run a scheme of this kind; in fact, we are doing it every day.

      David Davis: It is no surprise that the Under-Secretary did not answer my question, but I am glad that he referred to passports. He ought to read the Public Accounts Committee report on the passports disaster. It is very good. I should know; I wrote it. In assessing the benefits of the ID card scheme, has he calculated the alternative ways of achieving the same aims; more police, stronger border controls, tighter controls of welfare benefits and more resources to the security services? Has he assessed the costs of those, and has it come to more or less than £15 billion?
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Andy Burnham: I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman wrote that report. As an expert on the UK Passport Service, he will know that it is now performing extremely well and that its problems were not IT ones. On his specific question about whether we have considered other systems, he presents it as an either/or situation; as though we have to have one or the other. We are saying that it is responsible in terms of the country's security to do the two together. It is this Government who have put the police on the streets, not the Government of whom he was a member. It is this Government who have taken steps to improve our borders through the e-borders programme and it is this Government who will complement all those measures with a national identity card scheme.

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