The Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Ms Harriet Harman): My right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State and Lord Chancellor has made the following written ministerial statement.
"The recent judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Hirst, concerning prisoners' voting rights has raised a number of difficult and complex issues which need careful consideration. The ECtHR indicated that there should be proper debate about those issues and I have therefore concluded that the best way forward would be to embark on full public consultation in which all the options can be examined and which will give everyone the opportunity to have their say. A consultation document is therefore in preparation and I hope it will be available for discussion in a few weeks time. Thereafter there will be a period for those with an interest to make their views known, which will help to inform the development of future policy."
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Don Touhig): On 2 September 2004 a RAF Canberra T4 aircraft of 39 Squadron crashed at RAF Marham during a training sortie, resulting in the deaths of the two pilots, and serious injuries to the navigator.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): Following my oral announcement to the House on 8 November 2005 on proposals for the future of the five business units of the Defence Aviation Repair Agency (DARA), the Trade Union consultation period is over, and I have made my final decision. This decision concerns the future of DARA's business units at St. Athan in South Wales, Almondbank in PerthScotland, Sealand in north Wales and the two units at Fleetlands in Hampshire.
I have noted the House of Commons Defence Committee Report into Delivering Front Line Capability to the RAF. I will provide a full response to the Committee in due course but it is my judgment that further delay in announcing the way forward will prolong a period of uncertainty for the DARA workforce, will incur additional costs, and will adversely affect current work to examine options for DARA.
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DARA's helicopter repair and associated component businesses at Fleetlands in Hampshire, and Almondbank in Scotland, together with DARA's VC10 work at St. Athan, will be taken to the market to test whether sale might deliver improved effectiveness and value for money for our armed forces and a better long-term future for the workforce.
At the time of my announcement last November I made clear that we would work closely with the regional assembly in Wales, and we will of course engage with the other regional bodies, to mitigate the consequences of these necessary decisions and to provide appropriate outplacement services to help those affected.
I pay tribute to the excellent service DARA employees have provided to our armed forces. I am particularly mindful of the impact this announcement will have for individuals, especially, and for south Wales in general. We will help those affected to find alternative employment wherever possible and we will make every effort to use natural labour turnover, redeployment and voluntary redundancy to mitigate the loss. Using all of the above means we will seek to keep compulsory redundancies to a minimum but a significant number may be expected.
The Minister for Housing and Planning (Yvette Cooper): I am announcing today new guidance on enforcement and planning for site provision to address the problem of Gypsy and Traveller sites in inappropriate locations. This guidance sets out to address the shortage of authorised sites, and strengthen enforcement against the problem sites that can cause real distress for local communities.
The Government are also developing new measures to strengthen planning enforcement. This includes examining ways to strengthen temporary stop notices, where alternative sites are available, and establishing a new Task Group on enforcement involving the police and local government.
Three quarters of Gypsy and Traveller caravans are on authorised sites. But there are too many problem sites which can cause real distress for local communities. That is why we need stronger enforcement alongside more action from local authorities to identify alternative sites. Stronger enforcement and more alternative sites go hand in hand if we are to find a long term solution to the problems some communities face.
The Government are setting up a new Task Group, drawing together central and local government, the police and other agencies to address the wide variations
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in the use of enforcement powers and champion best practice. The Task Group will examine the difficulties some local agencies face in effective enforcement.
The Government will also consult the group on proposals to strengthen temporary stop notices where alternative sites are available. The group will act as expert advisers to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) and the Home Office, on further measures to strengthen enforcement, where there is alternative site provision.
The new circular we are publishing today, "Planning for Gypsy and Traveller Caravan Sites", provides that local authorities will need to identify appropriate land for Gypsy and Traveller sites through the planning system, to deal with the growing shortage of sites and prevent unauthorised sites in problem locations.
There has been a growing shortage of authorised sites since the duty on local authorities was repealed in 1994. Local authorities will have to assess the need for Gypsy and Traveller accommodation in their area. Guidance on carrying out accommodation assessments is also published today.
Also published today is new ODPM-Home Office guidance for local councillors on enforcement against unauthorised encampmentswhere Gypsies and Travellers camp on land they do not own. This is the first in a new series aimed at addressing the wide variations in the use of powers by local authorities and police forces across England, and enabling councillors to hold local agencies to account.
Further guidance will be published later this year, covering enforcement against unauthorised developmentwhere Gypsies and Travellers develop their own land without planning permissionas well as antisocial behaviour, such as verbal abuse and late-night noise, and environmental problems, such as fly tipping. Together, they will give police and local authorities clear instructions on how to use the range of powers available to them.
In 2002, the Cabinet Office undertook a study into the nature and extent of identity fraud and estimated that the total cost of identity fraud to the UK was £1.3 billion. It has, until now, been the most recent and current research on the problem. In the absence of consistent recording practices across the wide range of organisations affected by identity fraud, the Cabinet Office study had to make use of information which in some cases had been collected for different purposes but was nevertheless the best that could be obtained in the circumstances.
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The Home Office Identity Fraud Steering Committee (IFSC) has completed a one-off exercise to update the Cabinet Office estimate for the purpose of establishing trends in the cost of identity fraud over the past three years. The new figure has been produced using the same methodology as the 2002 Cabinet Office Study, but with more up-to-date figures where these are available. As with the previous study, it represents a best estimate of the scale of the problem.
The latest estimate is that identity fraud costs the UK economy over £1.7 billion. The table, which I have placed in the House Library and which will also be published on the IFSC and Home Office websites, sets out a detailed breakdown of the component parts of the new figure.
Because of the limitations of the method used previously to estimate the cost of identity fraud, the IFSC has agreed and implemented a new method to gather data on a more consistent basis to produce future estimates. We hope to have results from these new arrangements by early next year.
The introduction of a secure national identity cards scheme using biometric information will make a step change in protecting people from identity fraud. By linking a person's identity to biometric data which are unique to that person, a criminal claiming to be another person can be detected. The combination of a secure national identity register and a robust means of verifying identity will be an important safeguard for individuals, public services and the private sector against identity fraud.
Meanwhile, the Government are working actively with partners in the private sector and law enforcement to combat the growing threat of identity fraud. The Home Office, in collaboration with other Government Departments and private sector organisations, such as the Department for Work and Pensions, HM Revenue and Customs, APACSthe UK payments association, CIFASThe UK's Fraud Prevention Service and the British Bankers' Association, set up the IFSC in 2003 to lead a cross public/private sector work programme to tackle identity theft and identity fraud. The programme co-ordinates existing activity in the public and private sectors and identifies new projects and initiatives to reduce identity crime. Work is ongoing to implement measures against identity fraud that can be put in place in advance of an identity cards scheme.
All police forces in England and Wales have now established single points of contact with their colleagues in the Crown Prosecution Service and other Government Departments and agencies, including HM Revenue and Customs, to improve the investigation and prosecution of identity crime.
We are raising public awareness of identity fraud and how people can protect themselves from this type of crime. This includes the IFSC identity theft
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website www.identitytheft.org.uk which has had over 170,000 hits, and the identity theft leaflet, which I launched last year. Since its launch, the leaflet has been co-branded and distributed by a number of organisations including the National Neighbourhood Watch Association and Barclays.
The Home Office, UK Passport Service (UKPS) and DVLA worked closely with APACS, the Finance and Leasing Association and CIFASthe UK's Fraud Prevention Service to support their project to produce Identity FraudThe UK Manual. The manual includes examples of known security features from UK passports and driving licences and provides guidance to financial organisations to help spot forgeries.
UKPS has deployed a database of lost and stolen passports that is being shared with border authorities and police worldwide to help prevent identity fraud. UKPS is also trialling the validation of passports against the passport database when they are presented as evidence of identity when opening bank accounts. This helps to identify forged and lost and stolen passports which are being used fraudulently. In a two-month pilot involving five companies, 71 suspicious instances of passport use were detected, for example where the details on the passport differed from that held on the database or the passport had been reported lost or stolen.
We changed the law in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 to align the penalty associated with fraudulently obtaining a driving licence with that for fraudulently obtaining a passport and made these offences arrestable. The maximum penalty for both documents is now two years' imprisonment. The Identity Cards Bill, which is currently before Parliament, strengthens the law on the possession and use of false identity documents which are often used by criminals to open false bank accounts.