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Ross Cranston: I did not in any way down-play the significance of what is happening. Robbery is a serious offence. The point that I was making was twofold: first, the British crime survey is a better representation of people's experience, and secondly, the crime recorded by the police depends on the extent to which the police record things and to which people report things to them. I am not saying that there is not a problem, but we have to take those factors into account.
Mr. Grieve: I fully appreciate the hon. and learned Gentleman's point and I understand the way he puts it, but everything that I have seen suggests a growing problem of street crimebe it robbery or theft from the person, but particularly robberyand that that involving mobile phones, which brings us squarely to the issue addressed in the Bill, has been a contributory factor.
If I have understood correctly what the Prime Minister has had to say at Question Time on a number of occasions over the past few months, he appears to think that there is a serious problem. If he did not think so, he would not apparently have been issuing his commands to the effect that there must be a marked reductionI am not sure that it is even a marked reduction, but some reductionin the statistical evidence by September. We shall all await the results with interest. I sincerely believe that there has been a significant increase. The fear of crime that has gone with that has also risen considerably. I judge this legislation on that basis.
As I said to the Minister earlier, I hope that the Bill will make a significant contribution. I also hope, however, that he will feel able to respond to the thoughtful comments made in this short debate about what can be done in practice. I did not raise the question of the exportability of these telephones in my opening speech,
I cannot get away from the point that I made that if rep-rogramming has become a cottage industry, the Government might find that the police have a serious enforcement problem. Listening to hon. Members' speeches, I began to see that some who know a little more about what happens on the ground see such re-programming as a cottage industry. The hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) referred to young people being involved, in which case it is argued that the penalty should not be so high.
I would be much happier if I learned that such crime was the result of the activities of a number of cartels of criminals who had decided to focus on it as a way of making a profit. That would at least raise in me the hope that proper intervention would lead to the breaking up of those cartels. I think that many people have jumped on the bandwagon, and enforceability will be a key component of the Bill's success. If the Minister can provide us with any reassurance on that issue at this stage, I would be happy to hear it.
I await with interest the Minister's response to the debate. I repeat our assurance that we shall give the Bill a fair wind. If it receives Royal Assent on Wednesday as intended, as I have no doubt it will, it will probably have completed all its stages in the shortest possible time. That is a good thing; it is good that the House is able to do that. In that process, I very much hope that we do not lose sight of our objectives, and that if necessary the Minister will respond positively to any amendments that hon. Members may table to try to improve the Bill.
Mr. Denham: I am grateful to the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) for the way in which he has approached this debate. I shall try to touch on most of the issues raised. We have had notice of some of the issues that are likely to be raised in amendments. Although I shall not try to deal with them in full now, we will obviously consider them on their merit. I am grateful to hon. Members for giving us early warning of what we may be discussing on Wednesday afternoon. I am also grateful to hon. Members of other parties for their co-operation in the passage of the Bill. Despite the recognition on both sides of the House of the fact that the Bill does not wholly solve the problem we face, such co-operation shows that it is worth enacting as quickly as possible, rather than leaving things until the autumn.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dudley, North (Ross Cranston) raised two questions: one about violent crime and the other about design in crime. We have to take a balanced view. The British crime survey shows pretty conclusively that, when taken as a whole across all categories, violent crime has fallen significantly in recent years.
My hon. and learned Friend also talked about design in relation to the reduction of crime, and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (John Robertson), who spoke as the chairman of the all-party telecommunications group, referred to the role of manufacturers and operators. We have made it clear to the operating companies on several occasions during the past 12 months that we would if necessary be prepared to legislate to require the establishment of certain standards by the industry, but it has always been our preference not to do sonot least because with a fast-moving issue such as this there is a danger of legislating for the problem that existed two years previously rather than the problem that we might face in two years' time.
I am pleased that, albeit after some significant delays, Vodafone and O2 came on board and recognised the seriousness of the problem in January. They have helped to set in train the measures that we are discussing. In addition to the common database on IMEI numbers, they stressed the importance of legislation that made re-programming illegal.
In the run-up to the debate, I was toying with the idea of naming those manufacturers who were not yet committed to introducing a hardened IMEI number, but I am pleased to say that following the assurances that we have received during the past few days I could no longer name with confidence any major manufacturer who was not adopting the new GSM number. That is important because the GSM standards are not legally enforceable internationally, so the pressure both of consumer demand and from operating companies and retailers saying that they will market only secure phones is crucial.
We are of course pursuing the matter internationally, not least in global forums. The European Union leads on certain trade issues and I am pleased to say that my officials have been invited to Brussels to discuss the measures that we are taking in this country as well as some of the international issues that we want to pursue. As we are a major market for mobile phones, I hope that if manufacturers implement the high standards demanded by consumers, operators and retailers in this country that will put significant pressure on the global market for mobile phones. That must certainly be our aim.
Questions were put about insurance fraud. The nature of "pure" fraud, when a claim is made but no phone has been lost or stolen, makes it difficult to obtain a real measure. The issue on which we have closely focused with the industry pertains to circumstances where a lost phone has been reported stolen in order to substantiate an insurance claim. We have been able to establish that the insurance policies offered by the mobile phone companies cover loss as well as theft, so there should be no need to require someone to report a phone as stolen in order to claim against a company insurance policy. That does not apply to some household insurance policies, however
The hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) talked about penalties and the hon. Member for Beaconsfield asked about their operation. As I made clear in my opening speech, there is more of a cottage industry than a cartel at present; as there is nothing illegal in offering a re-programming service, it is offered by independent retailers, at market stalls and car boot sales, through internet companies and so on. Clearly, the aim is to persuade a large number of those people, who may be aware that they are operating in a dubious moral zone but have no desire to put themselves in an illegal position, out of that business. That will hopefully enable the police to concentrate their efforts on what I am confident will be a smaller number of people prepared to offer such a service knowing that it was illegal and what the penalties would be.
There will be flexibility in the penalties; this is an each-way offence and there are different ranges of tariffs in magistrates courts and Crown courts. However, we should not forget that someone who re-programmes a mobile phone is not really in a different category from someone who has gone into the street, hit another person and taken their mobile phone. In effect, people know where such phones come from and must take responsibility for their part in that chain of events.
There was some discussion of two issues raised by my noble Friend Lord Campbell-Savours in another place. The first was whether the Bill's wording would put at risk people who owned equipment for legitimate purposes. The secondperhaps the other side of that argumentwas whether the difficulties of proving intent would be so great as to make prosecution ineffective.
The reliance on intent or belief protects the legitimate owner of equipment. I am sure that we shall debate the matter in more detail than is appropriate on this occasion, but my view is that the concepts of intention and belief are already used effectively in the criminal law without major difficulty. The Theft Acts, for example, create the offence of theft where a person dishonestly appropriates property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it. The concept is well established.
The Bill is worded so as to protect somebody who legitimately owned a piece of equipment that could be used for those purposes. In practice, it is self-evident that in most cases there is likely to be significant circumstantial evidence, such as a large number of mobile phones, that would be taken into account.
Important points were made about accessories, as opposed to the mobile phone itself. This Bill does not deal directly with that, but the Government are taking other initiatives. For example, we are working with schools to try to discourage students from taking their phones to school. The balance of advantage to students is very much that they should not take their mobile phones to school, despite the so-called security arguments. Local education