Prison Estate: Biometrics

– in the House of Lords at 2:43 pm on 14 November 2005.

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Photo of The Earl of Northesk The Earl of Northesk Conservative 2:43, 14 November 2005

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether biometric-based security systems have been deployed anywhere within the United Kingdom prison estate; and, if so, with what results.

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, biometric systems are used in all Northern Ireland prisons and in 34 prisons in England and Wales. The prime objectives are to deter and detect prisoners swapping identities with visitors in order to escape and to identify banned visitors. Success has been reported in identifying banned visitors attempting to enter prisons. There have been no identity swap escapes in prison using those systems. Information relating to the Scottish prisons is a matter for the Scottish Executive.

Photo of The Earl of Northesk The Earl of Northesk Conservative

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. While I acknowledge that the prison estate in Scotland is the responsibility of the Scottish Executive, is it not the case that a fingerprint recognition system was installed at Glenochil high security prison? Is it not also the case that, within short order of it having been installed, inmates had spoofed and circumvented the system and gained access to all parts of the prison—even to the extent, as some prison staff have suggested, of settling old scores?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, I am afraid I can make no comment on that. In all the prisons in England, Wales and Northern Ireland where these systems have been put in, they have worked remarkably well and we have had no escapes at all.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the Opposition In the House of Lords, House of Lords

My Lords, surely the Minister can confirm whether my noble friend's version of events north of the Border is true. She must know that it would be helpful to the House if she were able to confirm it or not.

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, I am sorry to say I do not have any details about that matter. I am more than happy to check and write to the noble Lord, but there is nothing in my briefing to indicate that biometrics of this sort has caused any difficulty, although most of that briefing is on Northern Ireland, England and Wales.

Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Deputy Leader, House of Lords, Spokesperson in the Lords, Home Affairs

My Lords, has the Minister given any thought to the cost of biometric ID cards, particularly as this affects prisoners and claimants, and who is likely to meet this cost?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, biometric ID cards will relate to any citizen who seeks to apply for them, so there will be no different provisions for those who are in prison. This Question deals with the extent to which we are using biometric data to monitor those who go into and out of prison and who are within prison. As I have said, we have recently been using biometric identifiers to very good effect.

Photo of The Countess of Mar The Countess of Mar Crossbench

My Lords, if what the noble Earl has said is correct, is it not an indication that the Scots, as usual, are ahead of the English?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, it would be quite invidious for me to comment on whether prisoners and officers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are intrinsically more honourable than elsewhere across the Border. I would be loath to say that.

Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative

My Lords, which characteristics are the biometric measurements taken from? Are they just thumbprints or fingerprints? Is this the same range of characteristics as is intended to be employed for the future identity card scheme?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, various schemes are currently in place. Seven prisons use fingerprint biometrics, 15 prisons use fingerprint and photo biometrics, 10 prisons use single fingerprints alone and two prisons use hand geometry. A mixture of biometrics is used, depending on the level of security and the needs of the particular prison establishment.

Photo of Lord Skelmersdale Lord Skelmersdale Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Work & Pensions & Welfare Reform

My Lords, while I accept that the Minister has nothing in her brief about the situation in Scotland, what my noble friend was asking about, as I understand it, was the biometric operation of door locks between various parts of an individual prison estate, which have been circumvented by prisoners. Do such door locks occur in England, Wales or Northern Ireland?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, from the information I have, there has been no difficulty; the difficulty experienced before the introduction of biometric identifiers has been resolved. For instance, in a number of prisons in Northern Ireland, staff use a palm identifier to get in and out of certain areas, which has greatly enhanced security. It has also reduced costs, because no more passes have had to be produced. People have found it extremely useful, which is one of the reasons we are looking at this more closely with regard to roll-out.