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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Paul Goggins): The Government are committed to the extension of neighbourhood policing to all parts of England and Wales by 2008. Merseyside is a key partner in the development of that approach, which includes highly visible policing, easier access to individual officers and stronger accountability to local communities.
Dr. Pugh: In my constituency, we have had a series of neighbourhood policing plans, a new chief inspector almost every year and the constant rotation of local bobbies. We should monitor turnover, because it would help neighbourhood policing if the police were to stay in the neighbourhood.
Paul Goggins: I agree with the hon. Gentleman, who puts his finger on an important issue. I hope that he will take some encouragement from the commitment that is being made as part of the current restructuring of community policing in his area, whereby ward-based officers will not be removed from their neighbourhood policing duties whatever else may be happening. That links back to what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said earlier about the need to ensure that those who are dedicated to community and neighbourhood policing are able to continue that job whatever else may be happening in the wider community.
Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): I am sure that police community support officers play a critical role in community policing in Merseyside, as they do elsewhere. Does the Minister have any proposals to increase their powers in Merseyside and elsewhere?
We are considering what the standard powers of community support officers should be to
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ensure that they are properly empowered by the chief constable to work as part of the neighbourhood policing team. We want them to work in a highly visible way with police officers, community wardens and others to ensure not only that local people are reassured by their highly visible presence, but that we crack down on crime in those neighbourhoods.
Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con): The cost of community policing ultimately has to be met by council tax payers in Merseyside, as in any other part of the country. Why should council tax payers in Merseyside, or anywhere else, have to pay through the nose for their policing in future because of the Government's obsession with regionalisation?
Paul Goggins: I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's analysis. The neighbourhood policing fund, which is funding the community support officers who are so welcomed by Members on this side of the Houseand, I take it, by all Membersis the result of the Government's major investment of £88 million in the year that is about to start and £340 million in 200708. That means that we can move forward to the commitment of 24,000 community support officers by 2008.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Clarke): Identity fraud costs the economy at least £1.3 billion every year, and all the evidence shows that the threat is rising. The ID cards scheme will tackle the problem by recording biometric information so that we are able to detect people who try to register multiple identities to commit fraud, or for other, worse, purposes. The scheme will also allow individuals and organisations to verify identity to a much greater degree of certainty than at present.
Miss Begg: I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. I have constituents who look forward to the introduction of ID cards because they have had their identities stolen and found it very difficult to prove exactly who they are. However, other constituents who write to me are concerned that the very introduction of ID cards will not be safe and that the data will not be secure because the national database will be susceptible to fraud or to being hacked into so that the data on it are corrupted. What assurances can the Secretary of State give to those constituents that that will not happen?
I hear absolute assurances[Interruption.] I apologise, Mr. Speaker. I give assurances that the security of the database will be our absolute priority in all circumstances. Perhaps I can go even further. All of the many databases that are held about all of us in this Housewhether they concern finances, health or passports, or are in the private or the public sectorare insecure to a degree while we do not have an ID cards system. The ID cards system will
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provide security not only for the identity database itself but for all the other databases that hold data about the whole of this country.
Mr. Clarke: I think, although I have not checked up on my texts recently, that it is pretty socialist to say that an individual should possess their own identity and not have it stolen by somebody else. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) is suggesting that that is not a socialist tenetI shall take his authority on thatbut I think that it is a pretty strong basis.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): May I suggest to my right hon. Friend, in the friendliest way possible, that it might be useful if the Cabinet looked again at the whole issue of identity cards in view of the growing concern about not only the cost, but the database, about which, unlike other databases that he has mentioned, the Information Commissioner has issued a very clear warning over privacy and civil liberties? As regards the previous question, is it not a fact that the last leader of the Tory party was very keen on identity cards?
Mr. Clarke: Actually, the last leader of the Tory party was keen at the beginning but not at the end. The Tories wibble-wobbled throughout. The current leader has taken yet another position in the past day or so.
I do not accept what my hon. Friend says. As the arguments about costs, the security of the system and the need for it have become more widespread and better understood, support for ID cards has increased. It is a critical measure to enable us to provide security for people in this country and we shall proceed with it.
Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Given that the Government have issued more national insurance numbers than there are people eligible to receive them, and given the active market in illegal passports, why should we believe that they will get it right this time? Why cannot the Government get it right in those important cases in which they already hold data?
Mr. Clarke: If we take the passport example, which was controversial only a few years ago, the Passport Agency now has greater consumer appreciation of what it does than anyone else, including all major high street suppliers and so on. I pay tribute to it for that. It has undertaken a major IT project involving 40 million records successfully, systematically and positively. That is the model for what we should do and that is why the ID cards system has been given to it.
Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk)
(Lab): I do not have the same concern about the falsification of passports, having been with Europol to ascertain how easy that is. However, I am deeply concerned about the recent major tax credit fraud using the information, details and identities of civil servants in Departments. I am told that those identities are very
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secure. Will my right hon. Friend assure us that, if people can intervene with civil servants' identity passes, ID cards will be protected from such intervention?
Mr. Clarke: That is precisely the point. The biometrics that the ID cards will possess and those that are already being introduced in passports provide the assurances for the non-biometric schemes, which my hon. Friend described, that have given rise to such fraud. We need more security to give individuals and organisations the confidence that they need. The ID cards will provide that.
John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Given that, despite the Home Secretary's protestations to the contrary, reliance on a single reference source to establish identity will tend to maximise, not reduce the threat of fraud, and that all the Government's arguments have been consistently rebutted, why is the right hon. Gentleman hell bent on introducing a compulsory ID card scheme with a cost that he will not effectively calculate, for a benefit that he cannot properly quantify and at a risk to individual privacy that he dare not admit?
Mr. Clarke: As I said earlier and in various debates in this place, every single one of those arguments is wrong. I am sure that we will have the opportunity to debate some of them in the Commons in due course, and that is the right way to tackle them. However, the hon. Gentleman's assertions about cost, liberty and so on are simply wrong.
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