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17 July 2006 : Column 8

David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): Can the Minister tell us whether she has any words of comfort for the half a dozen or so prominent and wealthy people who were all expecting to receive a new identity following publication of the new year’s honours list, but who now find that their proposed new identities have been grievously snatched away from them? Does she—

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): One of the most common forms of identity fraud at the moment is perpetrated many thousands of times a day when fraudsters send e-mails to people's inboxes asking them for details of their bank accounts. Many people fall for that phishing expedition. Will the Home Office consider investigating that much more closely, because I suspect that many people are too embarrassed to own up to the fact that they have fallen for that fraud?

Joan Ryan: The answer is definitely yes. We are aware of that matter and working on it. I am sure that my hon. Friend and the House are aware that identity management and identity cards are an essential component in the fight against identity fraud. Identity cards will allow financial institutions and other companies to carry out high-value, sensitive or personal transactions to confirm their customers’ identity with a high degree of assurance.

Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds) (Con): Of the earlier variant, scaled-down ID card, David Foord, mission critical director at the Office of Government Commerce, wrote on 8 June that it was driven

and he concluded:

In the light of the continuing card chaos, can the Minister tell us in which year the Home Office will definitely introduce ID cards?

Joan Ryan: The hon. Gentleman is well aware that we have always made it clear that ID cards will be implemented incrementally. They will be phased in, starting with biometric residence permits for foreign nationals in 2008 and rolling out to UK nationals thereafter. The Government’s commitment is to their rapid introduction. I repeat—2008.

Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): With 88 million personal data records stolen in the last year from Government computer systems in the United States, including 26.5 million army veterans’ records in a single theft, and with reports of civil servants in this country selling hundreds of thousands of records to organised criminals for tax credit fraud, does the Minister agree that holding so much personal information on one single ID card database will—far from dealing with identity theft—be an open invitation to criminals to commit even greater identity fraud?

Joan Ryan: The hon. Gentleman raises some interesting and important points. He will know that the most important aspect of procurement for ID cards and the ID register database is that we get it and the roll-out right, so that the ID store is safe. We are seeking to move to a procurement timetable. The hon. Gentleman will also know that we have undertaken extensive soundings of the market and received sound
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advice. I hope to be able to publish our findings shortly and they will give him the reassurance he requires, as well as reveal the widespread public support for the ID card system.

David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): As we are talking about identity theft, I should stress that I am the other David Davis —[ Laughter. ]

In justifying ID cards, the Government claim that identity fraud costs the clearing banks in the UK Payments Association £504.8 million. The banks say that it costs them less than £37 million. Who is right?

Joan Ryan: One thing we do know is that ID fraud is a growing crime and a growing threat to the security of people’s identities. It costs the banks a great deal of money. The right hon. Gentleman might be forgetting—I hope that he is not ignoring—the issues of organised crime and terrorism. It is essential that we get an ID card system in place if we are to tackle those scourges that afflict our society. The challenge for the right hon. Gentleman is to tell us what policies he might have to deal with those problems.

David Davis: I note that I did not get an answer. The Home Office has been accused of exaggerating what ID cards would save by the banks, the insurance companies and even by HM Revenue and Customs, part of their own Government. At best, the project will save little and cost a fortune, but the problem is even worse than that. ID cards are likely to make the problem of identity theft worse, not better—

Andrew Miller: Absolute rubbish.

David Davis: Microsoft’s National Technology Office says that ID cards could “trigger massive identity fraud”, and one of the FBI’s leading identity fraud consultants said that the ID card could be replicated perfectly by criminals within six months —[ Interruption. ] I notice that Labour Back Benchers seem to think that they are more expert than Microsoft and the FBI. In order for the House to be sure, can the Minister guarantee that the ID card will be 100 per cent. secure against fraud—yes or no?

Joan Ryan: The right hon. Gentleman might next blame burglary on burglar alarms. It is a ridiculous contention. Can anybody say that anything is 100 per cent. secure? Opposition Members would have every reason to be sceptical if any Minister made such a claim. ID cards will be a crucial weapon in fighting terrorism, organised crime and identity fraud. The right hon. Gentleman will also know that the information on the card will be kept to a minimum—that which is required. It is biometrics that are so crucial and that will tie a person’s identity, meaning that, by testing the biometrics, we can know with absolute confidence that a person is who they say they are. The right hon. Gentleman needs to look again at what policies he has, or has not, for tackling this most serious matter. He will find that the identity cards programme is a valid and viable way forward, and one that the public of this country welcome and support.

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Neighbourhood Wardens

7. Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of neighbourhood wardens working in community policing teams in England and Wales. [85251]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (John Reid): Neighbourhood wardens can be a very important element of a neighbourhood policing plan. An evaluation of 84 warden schemes in 2003 found that they reduced the fear of crime and had a positive impact on the rates of crime.

Ian Lucas: I am grateful for that helpful reply. In Wrexham, neighbourhood wardens are important parts of community policing teams, along with community support officers and police officers. Local residents tell me that they particularly value neighbourhood wardens because of their close relationships with young people in their areas. Can my right hon. Friend assist me with any evidence that would support the proposal by the Liberal Democrat-led local authority to sack the neighbourhood wardens in Wrexham?

John Reid: That is at one with the Liberal Democrats’ national position, which is to refuse to back every single measure that improves local police effectiveness and local antisocial behaviour campaigns. As ever, whether on local issues such as this or on their refusal to countenance the means necessary to combat terrorism and organised crime—on ID cards, for example, they share with the Conservative party a reluctance to back the necessary means to combat those things—the Liberal Democrats are always found wanting on the ground. They seem to want to will the ends, but never to will the means.

Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con): We welcome community wardens as part of the mix of neighbourhood policing teams, but rather than the Government providing ring-fenced funding for them, should not chief constables and local communities be able to decide the right balance of wardens, community support officers and police officers for their areas, particularly when the council tax payer now finances more than a fifth of police force spending, which is double the amount funded in 1997?

John Reid: We are, of course, always prepared to look at giving more flexibility and devolving more control. However, it would help if the hon. Gentleman who asks for such flexibility were to support us when we put extra money into having a record number of police officers, or when we put extra money into supporting police community service, or when we put through antisocial behaviour orders, or when we do everything else necessary to supplement neighbourhood wardens in bringing real change in local communities. Once again, we have someone talking tough and voting soft on the Opposition Benches.

National Offender Management Service

9. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): If he will make a statement on the performance of the National Offender Management Service. [85253]

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The Secretary of State for the Home Department (John Reid): We have today published a written ministerial statement reporting NOMS performance for 2005-06, showing that it has met 22 out of 33 national targets. While that shows significant reductions in prisoner escapes and self-inflicted deaths, it also shows that prisons and probation must do more, and better, to protect the public. The figures make the case for reform, and that is why we are undertaking a review of the criminal justice system to rebalance it back in favour of the victim. That will be published shortly.

David Taylor: Experiences of privatising routine areas of the criminal justice system, such as court escort, tagging and hostel management, have often been shambolic and ultra-expensive. If still in his post when the much delayed NOMS Bill is published next Session, will the Home Secretary ensure that the management of high-risk offenders who pose a risk to the public will not be transferred to a fragmented, profit-driven sector whose purposes make it unfit to deliver a crucial responsibility better handled by the national probation service?

John Reid: As my hon. Friend may know, one of the failures in reaching targets was for management plans in high-risk cases to be completed in five working days. The target was 90 per cent. of cases, but the end-year result was 81 per cent. There has been an improvement since the 67 per cent. figure of last August; the figure in March was 88 per cent., so the trend is in the right direction, but I think that my hon. Friend would agree that from the point of view of the public, who want protection, it is still far short of what we regard as satisfactory. Of course, we will look at how we can improve NOMS, but part of that process will be opening up the service to contestability. We want to make sure that we get the best from the public sector in terms of value for money and effectiveness by using other than the public sector where that is appropriate.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one of the most important performance criteria is the extent of useful out-of-cell activity for prisoners, particularly education and training for employment futures?

John Reid: Yes, indeed. Prison is there to apply punishment and to protect the public, but it should also contribute to a diminution of offending, particularly through rehabilitation. I am delighted to tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman that one of the achievements of the past year, which is part of a balanced picture—I tried to stress that there have been shortcomings as well—is that offenders achieved 79,000 basic skills awards. Those are not peripheral skills; they can often contribute towards offenders making a useful contribution to their own lives as well as to society when they leave prison. Recently, I visited prisoners in Wandsworth who are taking part in plastering and bricklaying schemes there, in conjunction with a major private employer—Laing, the builder, which is providing places for them when they leave prison. Education at all levels, from trades to the academic sphere, is a good thing, not just because it benefits the prisoner, but because if it reduces reoffending
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and rehabilitates them in society, it helps to protect the public, alongside the protection and punishment that prisons distribute.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): One easy way to be sure that there is no improvement in performance is constantly to destabilise a professional service. I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware that constantly reiterating the idea that a private firm working for profit can automatically do better than people who have been professional for a long time is a way of ensuring that there is neither co-operation nor understanding.

John Reid: Which is precisely why I have never said that anything or anyone automatically provides a better service. I am not ideologically driven to believe that the private sector is automatically better than the public, so I hope that my hon. Friend is not automatically driven to believe that the public sector is always better than the private.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): Could the Home Secretary explain to his friends—his close friends all around him—the difference between contestability and privatisation?

John Reid: Privatisation is the process of handing out a contract to the private sector. Contestability is a process of competition involving both the public and the private sectors. If I can help the hon. and learned Gentleman with any other semantics, I will do so.

Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware that many Members on the Labour Benches are concerned about what he suggests. Going into the private sector is not a public good, private bad argument, but it must be about accountability. If we go into the private sector, whatever problems a company might create, the Government would get the blame regardless.

John Reid: My experience is that if anything goes wrong in the Home Office in the public sector the Government get the blame, which is not necessarily wrong in most cases if strategic and policy decisions are involved—that is where the burden of responsibility should rest. Whether in terms of delivery by the public sector, by an agency at arm’s length to the public sector, but still part of the public sector framework, or by a private firm acting as a subcontractor, ultimately the split is between those who deliver operationally and those—the Government—who decide the policy and strategy. I do not really see that there is a huge and significant difference between the two.


11. Mr. David Jones (Clwyd, West) (Con): What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of police protective services at sea ports in (a) north Wales and (b) England and Wales; and if he will make a statement. [85255]

The Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety (Mr. Tony McNulty): The delivery of police protective services in England and Wales, including north Wales, is a matter for the chief police officer of the area concerned, in conjunction with the police authority. The delivery of these services is subject to national policing standards and inspection and is routinely assessed in that fashion.

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Mr. Jones: As the Minister will no doubt be aware, the port of Holyhead is the third busiest passenger port in the country and the principal point of entry to north Wales from overseas. Will he therefore please explain why, against the background of a perceived protective services gap and an increased terrorist threat, the single counter-terrorism police grant, on which the north Wales police special branch rely, has been reduced from a notional sum in excess of £3.8 million last year to under £3.7 million this year? We are talking about a reduction of £113,000.

Mr. McNulty: The hon. Gentleman will know—if he does not I am happy to meet him to talk in detail about it—that that is not the only source of counter-terrorism funding for our ports and other aspects of protective services. The future disbursal of that and other such streams are a matter that we currently have under discussion. However, I take his points, and through him, the points made constantly by the North Wales police authority and the chief constable, that there is a real issue in terms of protective services at those sea ports—not least at Holyhead, as he indicates. If he wants to secure a meeting with me to discuss the matter further—perhaps with my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen)—I am more than happy to take part.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): Am I the only one to be astonished that partygoers were able to steal a trawler from a port in north Wales to return to Dublin? They were found 12 hours later steaming in the opposite direction, past Anglesey. That raises the question of what the police are doing to make sure that people are not thieving trawlers and other sea-going vessels. How many boats were stolen from around the coast of Britain last year and how many were recovered?

Mr. McNulty: The strict answer to my hon. Friend’s first question is, no, he is not the only one who is astonished by such activities. I apologise but I do not have information to hand on his wider points, which I take seriously. I shall write to him in due course on the specifics in relation to north Wales, our ports more widely, and the theft and recovery of said vessels.

Immigration and Nationality Directorate

12. Mr. Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con): If he will make a statement on progress with his Department’s review of the handling of asylum and immigration applications by staff at the immigration and nationality directorate. [85256]

The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Mr. Liam Byrne): The review of the immigration and nationality directorate is looking at how we can improve IND’s performance as an organisation overall. The report will be published before the parliamentary recess.

Mr. Benyon: In the light of the so-called sex-for-visas scandal that was exposed by The Observer not long ago, does the Minister agree that it takes enormous courage for victims to expose such wrongdoing; and will he tell the House what actions have been taken against the officials concerned?

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