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Orders of the Day — Identity Cards Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:06 pm on 20th December 2004.

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Photo of Gwyn Prosser Gwyn Prosser Labour, Dover 8:06 pm, 20th December 2004

Let me make some progress.

Although most immigrants are law abiding and peaceful, a small number of asylum seekers in that part of east Kent sought fraudulent ways to make multiple claims for benefit. Some succeeded in picking up large amounts of money by making more than one application for asylum and using the false identity to double their money. That was not difficult to do at the time, because the authority to claim such benefits was simply a letter from the Home Office, which could easily be forged with a little Tippex and a photocopier. But that is just the lower end of the forgery scale. At the higher end is criminals' ability to make very passable copies of British and foreign passports and ID cards.

Hon. Members may remember a BBC documentary film maker posing as an asylum seeker in Dover. He was put in contact with a gang in London who, at a cost, manufactured a complete set of false identity documents within a few days. To tackle that abuse, the Government introduced identity cards for all asylum seekers—that has already been mentioned—as part of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002. Those asylum registration cards—ARCs as they are called—are also biometric. They hold the electronic imprint of the holder's fingerprints in digital form.

The new system was implemented speedily and without problems. As well as being highly effective in combating fraud, the new cards are welcomed by asylum seekers because they help clearly to define their status and ensure that they get speedy access to their legitimate benefits. I have heard of no instance of an ARC being successfully forged, and my experience of seeing the real benefits of this card, as well as my view that the lack of identity cards in this country was a big pull factor for economic migrants and asylum seekers, persuaded me to support and promote the introduction of secure biometric ID cards for the rest of the population.

The creation of multiple identities is by no means limited to asylum seekers and illegal immigrants. A large proportion of criminals use false and multiple identities to defraud and to escape detection. Stolen identities are the stock-in-trade of some villains. When police tracked down the evil people smugglers who allowed 58 young Chinese to perish in the back of a container in my constituency of Dover, one of the criminals had no fewer than 51 separate identities, all supported by false documentation.

Owing to the flow of immigrants to Dover, the volume of illegal working in Kent increased and the activities of the illicit gangmasters flourished. That is another area of criminality where the ability to define identity by the production of a secure biometric card would help to crack down on illegal working and on the people who smuggle others into Britain and profit from their human misery.

I believe that those reasons alone are probably sufficient for the introduction of identity cards, but the massive escalation in the threat to our citizens and to our communities represented by the attack on the twin towers in 2001 has added a new dimension to the debate, as well as another important reason for ensuring that our police, our border control officers and our security services know with a degree of certainty who is in the country and who is who.

I do not think that anyone believes that the threat that organisations such as al-Qaeda pose to our communities will diminish in the foreseeable future, and there is every probability that, with the passage of time, international terrorists will become more threatening and more sophisticated in their planning. This means that it is even more important than ever that the state knows who is in the country and has reliable population statistics, which is why I would welcome the reintroduction of embarkation controls in Britain to run alongside secure compulsory ID cards.