HL Deb 21 December 2004 vol 667 cc1649-52
Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In so doing, I declare an interest, having had a credit card stolen and used 12 times in a cash machine.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will introduce legislation to require banks to improve security around their cashpoint machine.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal)

My Lords, we have worked extensively in partnership with banks, police, local government and crime and disorder reduction partnerships to reduce vulnerability around cashpoint machines, but we have no plans for new legislation.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that rather disappointing reply. Is she aware that this form of crime rose by 85 per cent last year? If criminals keep on getting away with crimes, they will keep on committing them. In my case, no CCTV cameras were working, including in Peterborough and Heathrow, as well as North Yorkshire.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Baroness has had this troubling incident happen to her, but I assure her that this issue is being looked at creatively. CCTV is one of the measures used to try to make things safer. A number of industry initiatives are now in place, or are being developed, to counter all types of cash machine fraud. Those initiatives include installing CCTV cameras both in and around machines to deter fraudulent activity. Where the police believe that a particular cash machine might benefit from CCTV, then it is for them to raise the matter with the bank or with the crime and disorder reduction partnership. Police local authority liaison officers are working with local authorities, and there is now a better concordat in relation to those matters.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, is the Minister aware that in many South American countries the hole in the wall is not a hole in the wall but a small inset cubicle within the bank wall, which only one person can enter at a time? If a CCTV camera were used in conjunction with that, it would be much easier to identify the people. One of the common scams is to insert an artificial strip in the machine, and at least it would then be possible to see who was doing it. Would it not be in the interest of the banks to consider implementing these ideas?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, the noble Baroness makes an important point. The intelligence of how others around the world have dealt with this problem is important, and banks are looking at it. There is an issue in relation to how we can make it better. Local authorities and the police are working together on a defensible space, which involves making a metre squared box on the floor outside the cashpoint machine. CCTV footage of users suggests that in the majority of cases the marked space was respected by those waiting their turn to use the machine. That has been piloted, and it appears to have had a good effect. In fact, research on characteristics of street crime found that one in four street crime offences were geographically connected to cash machines. These sorts of issues are being trailed and are reducing the level of offending taking place around machines.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, although I accept that it is the banks' responsibility to get to grips with this growing problem—and of course they are beginning to charge cardholders to do it—I was disappointed by the Minister's original Answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, to the effect that the Government have no plans to legislate on anything. Even as we speak, magnetic strip reading machines are on sale in London. Why do the Government not at least consider making their sale illegal?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I know that many in this House think that legislation is the panacea of all ills. I regret to tell the noble Lord that that is not always the case.

Noble Lords


Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, we are working very hard through the crime and disorder reduction partnerships to find practical, effective ways to reduce crime. I mentioned the pilot study that was undertaken by Greater Manchester police, which showed that creating a defensible space around the cashpoint machine reduced the number of offences committed by 66 per cent. The other actions being taken by the crime and disorder reduction partnership are making our areas much safer. There are important, practical things that we can do, together with the banking industry, the police and the crime and disorder reduction partnerships to address this problem. Legislation is not necessarily the first port of call.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend would allow me to ask a related question about bank security, concerning cheque books sent by banks to their customers. Is my noble friend aware that, in my experience, all too frequently they are being intercepted between the bank and the customer? They are then used fraudulently, and there seems to be no security measure adopted by the banks that can safeguard the customer. I declare an interest, in that I am having my cheque books sent to this place, because I do not like them being sent home in case they do not get there.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, fraud is a huge matter, which the banking industry is taking very seriously. The activities to reduce banking fraud have been quite vigorous, and the key to tackling fraud is prevention; the chip and pin system that is now being introduced makes it much more difficult for people to clone cards. As for sending materials through the post, the banks are looking at that.

There has been additional funding for the City of London police to enable expansion of the economic crime department. The Home Office, in partnership with the financial services sector, helped to establish the dedicated cheque and plastic crime unit, the DCPCU, providing £1.4 million over two years to pilot it. The pilot was a success, and banks estimated their savings at around £65 million. The unit is continuing with full financial backing from the industry. These matters are being taken seriously and are being looked at.

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, the Minister was good enough to cite some good practices adopted by banks. My bank recently sent me photographs of what a machine looks like when it is tampered with. How can such information be passed on to the general public so that there is less likelihood of fraud being committed?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, as I said, the crime and disorder reduction partnerships are doing a great deal to make sure that information is disseminated. Research has shown that environmental measures can have a significant impact. We published the research on 30 November in a paper called Problem-solving street crime: practical lessons from the Street Crime Initiative. It involved improving lighting and visibility, installing rear-view windows and relocating. We can all do things to try to make crime less likely to occur to ourselves and to keep our property safe. We will continue, through the local criminal justice boards and the crime and disorder reduction partnerships, to make sure that information is properly disseminated to individuals, so that they can take better care of their own property.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, who actually owns the cash machines? Are they an extension of the bank? If so, does not the bank have responsibility to make sure that the cash machines are bug-free?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, they are owned by the banks. As I mentioned, a concordat or agreement was recently signed about a one-stop point for police to contact the banks. All the banks have come together so that, if there is a difficulty in relation to a cash machine, the police can give that information to one source and appropriate measures can be taken in reducing the aberrant effect of the use of that machine. It is the banks' responsibility, but also the responsibility of the police and the local authority. If we go back to the defensible space and say that it has to be marked on the road, the three would have to act together. The crime and disorder reduction partnerships, which we created, are powerful bodies because they bring together all the people across the piece who can look at an area and, we hope, take steps to make sure that crime is properly reduced there.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, is the Minister aware that some organised gangs work in this area? I have heard that they are from Romania and Ghana, just to mention two countries.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, regrettably, there are a number of organised criminal gangs. It is our responsibility and the police's responsibility to try to identify them, disrupt their activity and make it more difficult for them to operate in the area. All that is happening, which is why the crime rate has been reduced by 30 per cent during the time that the Government have been in office. The street crime initiative was very successful and reduced crime significantly in the areas in which it operated. We continue to drive that forward. I should reassure noble Lords that we have been considering what further changes might need to be made to fraud legislation; that consideration is continuing also.

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