An identity cards scheme, legislation for which was announced in the Queen's Speech, will provide people with a highly secure means of protecting their identity. Prior to the introduction of identity cards we have set up a public-private sector work programme to tackle identity theft and identity fraud. Identity fraud costs the UK economy at least £1.3 billion a year. Measures that have been delivered include a tougher criminal regime for identity fraudsters and a database of lost and stolen passports.
May I add my personal congratulations to my hon. Friend on his well-deserved promotion to ministerial office? He will be aware that utilities bills are often required by banks as proof of a customer's identity. He may not be aware that, via the internet, it is now possible to obtain, for example, a telephone bill in any name at any address within 20 minutes. Does he share my lack of surprise that, during the general election, Labour's commitment to introduce a national identity card met with a huge level of support among voters?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind welcome; ironically, he would have been my first choice of inquisitor from the Dispatch Box at my first Question Time. He is absolutely right to draw attention to the strong public support for the identity card scheme. The latest polls suggest that that support is running at around 80 per cent. I am sure that the experience in his constituency was the same as in mine. Incidentally, that figure includes 72 per cent. of Liberal Democrat supporters. That is due in no small part to the public's growing awareness of identify fraud. The Government have increased measures to tackle identity fraud, such as the penalty for having a false driving licence. However, my hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the problem of false utility bills. I hope that the industry, in particular the finance industry, will listen closely to what he said.
What progress is being made to share the registry of deaths with the financial services industry? After all, being dead is not something that one normally manages to keep confidential.
The identity theft of those who have died is a real issue. I know that the hon. Gentleman raised questions in the last Session of Parliament on that very matter. The fact remains that more and more people are trying to evade the law by using false identities. I put it back to him that his party needs to consider what measures it would put in place to ensure that those practices are stamped out. A secure biometric identity card remains the best means of tackling identity fraud into the future.
In respect of the question asked by Dr. Pugh, will my hon. Friend consider bringing the Society of Registration Officers together with representatives of the financial services industry to discuss the problem, because a great deal of identity fraud is perpetrated by people using the names of the deceased?
That is a good suggestion and I shall bear it in mind. We are discovering that the people who seek to use false identities are finding ever more inventive means of using them. My hon. Friend is right in what he says, and he has campaigned on the issue. We need to be fleet of foot in ensuring that the identities of people who have died are not used in such a way. I certainly take on board the point he raises and will feed it into the public-private groups, to which I referred, which are looking closely at these issues.
May I begin by welcoming the Minister to his new post? In the last Parliament, the Government went to great lengths to demonstrate that identity cards would be a serious deterrent to identity theft. I might say that identity theft has suddenly become that much more important to those of us on the Conservative Benches since the election of my hon. Friend David T.C. Davies. However, on top of that, the London School of Economics report on the Government's Identity Cards Bill said:
"There is . . . a substantial body of evidence to show that the establishment of centralised identity can increase the incidence of identity theft."
In addition, once it becomes clear that the cards will cost three times more than the border police that we are suggesting, that no one will be forced to carry the card, and that they will not be effective for at least five years, what new arguments will the Government deploy to make the scheme that much more compelling?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his welcome. As I reflected on his comments, I thought that perhaps the Conservatives have no reason to crow given that they are yet again embarking on an identity crisis of their own.
Early analysis of the scheme that is being developed has indicated that the benefits, including to the public sector in terms of cutting fraud and the improper use of services, and to the private sector in terms of cutting identity fraud, will, when the scheme is fully operational, outweigh its cost. We are confident that it will be of direct benefit to the citizens who play by the rules, who pay their dues and who want to ensure that their identity, and that of their family, is not improperly used by those with dishonest motives.