Orders of the Day — Identity Cards Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:01 pm on 28th June 2005.

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Photo of Robert Marshall-Andrews Robert Marshall-Andrews Labour, Medway 9:01 pm, 28th June 2005

In view of the time, I have torn up the civil liberties peroration with which I was hoping to entertain the House. I will limit that aspect of my speech to pointing out the undoubted fact that the bite of this Bill lies in its secondary, not its primary legislation. It would be as well if Members understood—I am sure that they do—that under the Bill's secondary legislation, it is possible for the Secretary of State to extend the information put on the register in respect of any individual to include any matters relating to security and crime. If he does so, people will not be able to access it, because the Data Protection Act 1998 will not allow them to do so. That is all that I have to say on civil liberties, apart from endorsing in general terms the rather florid comments of Mr. Cash, whom I have the honour to follow.

I shall attempt to give the House the benefit of my research into one of the few things about which I know a little: crime. I was entertained—indeed, I was exercised—by the claim, which has been made on many occasions, that so-called identity theft costs the nation £1.3 billion a year. I thought it would be interesting to find out how that figure was arrived at, and I want to give the House the benefit of my research in the very short time available.

I first went to the Government document that accompanies the Bill. It does not deal with this issue in detail, but it does contain the following short passage:

"A few items stolen from a rubbish bin such as utility bills . . . can lead to huge financial losses as well as distress and inconvenience for victims in putting their records straight."

It continues—without providing a source—by pointing out that

"On average victims can spend 60 hours restoring their records."

I find that difficult to believe. I know that British Telecom and British Gas, for example, can be tiresome when people try to get their records put right, and that one can spend a lot of time listening to music on hold. But I found the claim that one can spend two weeks, on continental time, trying to put one's records right as a result of documents being removed from one's dustbin an unconvincing start to my research.

However, things got worse when I finally found the document on which this figure is based—a Cabinet Office document called "Identity Fraud: A Study". It deals with various aspects of crime that, it is said, cost £1.3 billion. The overwhelming majority of that figure is said to come from the following types of crime: VAT fraud, which accounts for £215 million; credit card theft—of course, that cannot be affected by this legislation—which accounts for £215 million; and money laundering, which accounts for some £400 million.

I am delighted to say that I know a little about the form of money laundering to which that study refers. It involves people going into bureaux de change in order to launder money. All such crimes referred to in that study—£400 million-worth—are actually a limited number that were committed in 2001. Generally speaking, what happens is that somebody goes into a bureau de change bearing a rucksack or haversack, in which is contained approximately £1 million in old notes, mainly Scottish. That person then offers them to the owner of the bureau de change, saying, "Please may I have new guilders?" He is then given the guilders in exchange for the notes.

That is the crime that it is hoped will be completely laid to rest by identity cards. I invite hon. Members, in the short period I have left to speak, to speculate and contemplate what happens when Jock or Bill arrives with his million quid. The owner of the bureau de change—Chinese, probably—says to him, "I see you are back here again with another million pounds of Scottish notes for which you want guilders". He will then say, "Any chance of an identity card?" No? Well, it would be all right with an ID card, but if the person in question said no, I invite the House to say that that would not be the end of that particular transaction.

Of course, it gets worse when we contemplate serious blue-collar crime. It is envisaged that the scheme will do something to prevent armed robbery. Well, I can contemplate the cashier who has the misfortune of looking at a balaclava and a shorn-off shotgun. I dare say that some would have the sang-froid at that moment to say, "Please may I see your identity card?". I have known some very stupid criminals in my time, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but very few who could be prevailed upon to give themselves away as a result of this legislation, which I greatly hope we will not pass tonight.