§ Mr. Hancock
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans there are to make passports and visa information better protected against fraud; what assessment has been made of the viability of biometrics; and if he will make a statement. 
§ Beverley Hughes
The British digital passport is one of the most secure in the world. It is machine readable and complies with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) standard for passports. It contains a digital photograph and a digital signature of the holder, and the personal identification page is protected by a clear plastic laminate incorporating a holographic device which further protects the portrait. The personal identification page is also protected by a series of laser perforations. The use of special paper and printing techniques provide added security. The security features in the passport document remain under continuing review in case a feature is compromised by fraudsters.
The United Kingdom Passport Service (UKPS) is considering the use of biometrics (fingerprints, iris, facial recognition) in passport books and cards both to further enhance security and to prevent the issue of multiple passports in the same identity. It is keeping in close touch with work being undertaken by ICAO post September 11 to develop an international standard for the use of biometrics in passports. In addition and in support of the concept of an entitlement card the UKPS has commissioned a study from the National Physical laboratory on the application of biometrics in an entitlement scheme. This study will look at iris, fingerprint and facial recognition templates and their application within large databases.
The issue of visas at diplomatic posts overseas, is the responsibility of UKvisas, a joint Home Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office Department. Visas are issued on specifically designed vignettes that contain various security features in a common European Union format. A revised European Union common format vignette is being designed and should be brought into use in April 2004. The new format will incorporate space for a digital photograph of the applicant. There are no plans 844W to use biometrics as part of the visa process but UKvisas is monitoring developments in this area including the Immigration Service trial at Heathrow.