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Home Department

Identity and Passport Service

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Joan Ryan): The Identity and Passport Service is today publishing its business plan for the year commencing April 2007. Copies of the document will be placed in the Library of the House.

Passport Fraud

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Joan Ryan): Further to the statement of 2 May 2006 by my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office, announcing the proposed introduction of interviews for adult first-time passport customers, the House will wish to know that I am announcing today the opening of the first passport interview offices commencing in May with further offices to be added progressively throughout 2007.

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Passport interviews are part of the continuing fight against attempted passport fraud and forgery and are being introduced alongside other counter fraud initiatives. These changes are critical because of increasing levels of attempted passport and identity fraud. It is widely recognised that the very nature of identity fraud makes it difficult to be precise when estimating the scale of the problem in terms of the number of fraudulent passport applications. The Identity and Passport Service has sought to address this issue through special exercises that scrutinise a representative sample of passport applications.

During the period 31 October 2005 to 30 September 2006, a sample of several thousand applications were scrutinised by specialist Identity and Passport Service teams with support from fraud investigators. This found that 0.25 per cent. of applications (equivalent to 16,500 fraudulent passport applications a year) were believed to be from people attempting to obtain a passport fraudulently. Almost half of these applications were stopped by existing Identity and Passport Service processes. The remainder had gone undetected. Our current estimate is therefore that the level of undetected fraud is about 0.15 per cent. (equivalent to 10,000 applications against the planned 6.6 million passports issued per year).

Although precise figures are difficult to obtain, it appears that the level of attempted fraud is increasing and getting more sophisticated. Analysis of the frauds shows that the main fraud threat is from first time adult applications followed by first time child applications.

The Identity and Passport Service has developed a comprehensive counter fraud strategy that will help to mitigate these patterns of fraud including:

The requirement to attend an interview will be introduced gradually, starting with modest volumes of interviews in a limited number of interview offices from May 2007, with the Identity and Passport Service progressively adding further offices through to the end of 2007. This progressive introduction will enable the Identity and Passport Service to enhance the interview process for customers using feedback from the early interviews.

These measures are essential to protect our citizens from identity theft and to ensure that the British passport remains one of the most secure and respected in the world.

I have placed an “Introduction of Passport Application Interviews” document in the Libraries of both Houses setting out the updated plans.

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Prime Minister

Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): The hon. Member for Rochdale (Paul Rowen) has been appointed as a full member of the United Kingdom delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe in place of the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell). The hon. Member for Cheadle (Mark Hunter) has been appointed as a substitute Member in place of the hon. Member for Rochdale.

Trade and Industry

Clergy Working Group

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Jim Fitzpatrick): The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) set up the Clergy Working Group in 2004 to look at clergy working conditions as part of its review of employment status issues. The working group included representatives from trade unions and many faith groups and was chaired by the DTI.

Discussions within the Clergy Working Group have resulted in the development of a statement of good practice. The statement represents minimum standards that faith groups should aim to achieve, on a voluntary
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basis, in a variety of areas—terms and conditions of work; resolving disputes; development and personnel support; and information and consultation.

As a first step the DTI is asking faith groups to assess the current position in relation to the standards in the statement and in two years time will ask faith groups what progress has been made. Individuals will have an opportunity to contribute to this process at both stages. Based on the information and evidence provided, DTI will consider if any further action is appropriate, including legislative action. The DTI will encourage other faith groups, which did not participate in the working group, to consider joining this process.

Work and Pensions

Benefit Fraud Inspectorate

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. James Plaskitt): On behalf of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the BFI inspection reports were published today on Glasgow city council, and London borough of Hounslow. Copies have been placed in the Library.

The BFI reports detail a range of strengths and weaknesses in the housing benefit services provided by councils and make recommendations to improve the security and efficiency of benefit delivery.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is considering the reports and may ask the councils for proposals in response to BFI’s findings.

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