Mr. Prosser: I said that the Home Affairs Committee examined many important reasons, including access to the English language and to friends. I am focusing on the reason that, anecdotally, is strongest in my local experience.
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 seekersthat has already been mentionedas part of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002. Those asylum registration cardsARCs as they are calledare 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.
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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.
David Taylor: My hon. Friend has a deservedly high reputation for improving race relations in his constituency, so is he not uneasy at the proposals to phase in identity cards such that non-EU nationals living in the UK for more than three months will be the first ones to have to carry them? Might that lead to a stop-and-search culture, which would damage race relations in a way that he has been trying to combat locally for five or six years?
The critics of ID cards keep wheeling out the old chestnut that ID cards did not or would not stop any of the notorious terrorist attackswe have heard that any number of times tonightbut that argument ignores the enormous amount of preparation involved in and the enormous number of people who prepare the ground for such attacks. It is well known that a significant proportion of those people lie dormant by hiding behind false identities. We have already heard that about 30 per cent. of terrorists use false identities to get by.
Our security and police chiefsthe people with the awesome responsibility of protecting us from the destructive outrages of terroristsall say that ID cards would help them in their task. The same people tell us that, although they have already successfully disrupted and prevented more than one major terrorist attack in Britain in recent months, a further attack on the capital is inevitable rather than just likely.
So to those who argue that identity cards did not prevent 9/11 and Madrid, the security chiefs of those countries are entitled to say that although, sadly and tragically, their anti-terrorist units did not prevent the attacks, that is not to say that those units have no use or that they should never have been established in the first place.
I know from taking soundings in my area that the vast majority of my constituents want ID cards to be introduced. We know from our consultations that about 80 per cent. of the British people want ID cards to be introduced. We know that all the security people want
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ID cards. We know that nearly all our European partners already have some form of ID card in place. There is a rising tide of support for these timely new measures; I am happy to add my support for this important Bill tonight.
Mrs. Patsy Calton (Cheadle) (LD): The Government argue that identity cards and the national register will protect us from terrorists, stop benefit fraud and prevent illegal immigrationtheir effect will be to provide an answer to all our problems. The Conservatives appear to agree. "Appear" is the operative word: why else would so many of them, we understand, have been told to take the day off rather than reveal the extent to which they oppose identity cards?
I am very dubious about the first claim of ID cards protecting us from terrorism. We all want our constituents to be protected from terrorist attacks, which are made more likely by this country's involvement in the war in Iraq. The Government dragged the country into that waragain, with the full backing of the official Opposition. Then, as now, it was left to the Liberal Democrats to lead the opposition in the House. However, I see no evidence that identity cards have prevented terrorist attacks in Europe. Over recent years, hardly a European state has not had its citizens murdered by terrorists, as in Madrid in the train bombings, despite Spain's citizens having been compelled for many years to have identity cards.
The amount of taxpayers' money needed to start up this system is hugean estimated £3 billion or more for the computer system. We should watch for the announcement that that has doubled or trebled, as the costs of so many such schemes do. Then there will be the as yet unknown ongoing costs for the army of people to maintain the system and constantly to update individuals' records as their addresses and situations change. How many more people will have to be put on the payroll to do that, and at what cost? We simply do not know.
I have seen various initial estimates of the cost to each of us of an identity card. No one seems to know the true figure, but whatever it is, how long will it be before it rockets? How will that affect those who were not forced to register for an ID card when renewing their passport, but who are given notice that the Secretary of State requires them to register under threat of a £2,500 fine for non-registration?