Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Identity Theft

8. Mr. Tom Harris (Glasgow, South) (Lab): What steps the Government are taking to combat identity theft. [9]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Andy Burnham): 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.

Mr. Harris: 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
23 May 2005 : Column 411
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?

Andy Burnham: 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.

Dr. John Pugh (Southport) (LD): 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.

Andy Burnham: 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.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): In respect of the question asked by the hon. Member for Southport (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?

Andy Burnham: 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.

Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): May I begin by welcoming the Minister to his new post? In the last
23 May 2005 : Column 412
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 the Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies). However, on top of that, the London School of Economics report on the Government's Identity Cards Bill said:

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?

Andy Burnham: 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.

Non-metropolitan Police Authorities

9. Peter Luff (Mid Worcestershire) (Con): If he will make a statement on the funding of non-metropolitan police authorities. [11]

The Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety (Hazel Blears): Government funding is chiefly allocated using a funding formula that distributes resources on the basis of relative need. It does not distinguish between shire and metropolitan forces. The funding settlement for 2005–06 provided grants on the basis of need with a minimum increase in general grants of 3.75 per cent. for all police authorities, ranging up to 6.8 per cent.

Peter Luff: In the last Parliament, the Government often sought to take the credit for the 300 extra police officers hired by the West Mercia police authority, which because of the rotten deal the Government give West Mercia were funded entirely out of huge increases in council tax. Then, with predictable hypocrisy, they tried to cap the police authority for raising the money to pay for the police officers. When will the Government give counties such as Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Shropshire a fairer share of the available resources to enable them to meet the legitimate demands that the people of those counties have of their police force?
23 May 2005 : Column 413

Hazel Blears: I shall tell the hon. Gentleman about the settlement for West Mercia police: this year, they got an increase of 3.75 per cent. He will know that that was £2.5 million more than they would have got if the formula had been applied across the board. Because there was support for those floor forces, that force got an extra £2.5 million. It also got an extra £2.3 million from the rural policing fund, so it was a major beneficiary of that fund. The hon. Gentleman has 262 extra police officers in his area and 82 community support officers. I am delighted that his police authority was able to look sensibly at its budget. No police authorities had their funding capped this year.

A band D council tax payer in the hon. Gentleman's area pays £2.75 a week for policing—an increase of 11p a week. That is excellent value for high quality policing in West Mercia.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): The Government did make a great effort to assist Cheshire with its funding, but the reality is that the shire counties still have a gap, largely due to the underfunding of their pension schemes in the past. Will my right hon. Friend bear it in mind that we may have a smaller number of problems, but they are as real and as devastating to the communities concerned as the problems faced by those who live in larger, urban areas?

Hazel Blears: My hon. Friend is right. Wherever they live, citizens who experience crime and antisocial behaviour are entitled to good, fast, responsive and accessible policing, and that is exactly what we are putting in place with our neighbourhood policing teams over the next three years, so that local people know their officers and can get a good result.

We are seeking to amend the pension scheme so that the peaks and troughs of pension provision that have happened in the past can be evened out. Police authorities will therefore find it easier to plan for the pension costs of their authorities.

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk) (Con): The Minister will know, just as her right hon. Friend the Home Secretary knows, that Norfolk has not had a good deal from the Home Office. Will she confirm whether the Home Secretary's proposals to get rid of many of the county police forces are largely motivated by a desire to save money rather than to improve efficiency?

Hazel Blears: The hon. Gentleman will know that Norfolk, like every other force in the country, has had some extremely good police settlements in the past few years and that funding for the police generally has gone up by 39 per cent. since 2000, which is 21 per cent. in real terms. There has been good investment in those forces.

I say to Members throughout the House, not just those representing Norfolk, that our examination of police structures aims to ensure that our police forces are fit for purpose and that they can deal with the whole range of pressures on them, including tackling level 2 crime, serious public disorder and terrorism. We want to make sure that our police services have the capacity and capability to provide a good service to the public, and that is certainly not about cutting costs.
23 May 2005 : Column 414

Next Section IndexHome Page