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Meg Hillier: Let me develop my point first. Once we have identity cards that lock a biometric fingerprint and a facial image into a digital chip which can then be checked to prove that the person is who they say they are, we will have a much more secure system and be able to protect the data. We will no longer have to rely on trust, which we have—unfortunately—relied on happily for a long time. Trust is no longer enough to protect against identity fraud.

Tom Brake: I deliberately avoided the subject of identity cards, because Mr. Williams might intervene. Given that the Minister has raised the matter, perhaps she could explain how effective ID cards will be if the person who is seeking a card is using fraudulent ID as the basis for creating it.

Meg Hillier: Without straying too far off the subject, Mr. Williams, I will deal briefly with that point.

A person can only have one identity through the identity registration system, because it has to be linked to a very unique identifier—one’s fingerprint. That means that anybody attempting to use something fraudulently will only ever be able to have one identity. But we would also make sure, as we do with our passport interviews for new adult applicants, that we have rigorous checks to make sure that the person in front of the interviewing officer is who they say they are. We can make sure that we can bottom that out. There are a number of checks that can be done at the early stage and we need to make sure that they are absolutely correct. The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, but the core principle of identity cards is that the unique identifier links someone to their identity information.

In terms of security, the information that we hold on the passport database, for example, covers 80 per cent. of British citizens, and all that information is exactly what will be on the national identity register, with the addition of a national insurance number. There have not been great examples of loss of those data. Security is important and we are not complacent about it. The Government have a good record of protecting data and information, notwithstanding the unfortunate loss of the CDs.

Moving on to the points raised by the hon. Gentleman about the all-party report on fraud, we have established the national fraud reporting centre, and the City of London police is to be the specialist force dealing with fraud up and down the country. Only last week I met with single points of contact on identity fraud in police forces and other organisations, including the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency. Every year they get together in a forum, which was set up in 2005, to share best practice and information on cutting-edge techniques used by criminals attempting to use identity fraud to commit other crimes. We are also waiting for a detailed proposal from the Metropolitan police about an e-crime unit and whether or not we need to establish a separate body at another point to look into the specific issues of e-crime that the hon. Gentleman has raised.

The hon. Gentleman talked about phishing, which has now been criminalised by the creation of the offence of fraud by false representation under the Fraud Act 2006. Law enforcement and private sector organisations and Government work together to combat the spread of phishing. It is, at the very least, a nuisance to people,
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but has far more serious consequences for those who are caught. The term “spyware” covers a range of software, some of which may be illegal and some of which may not. It is a matter for the police to consider in each case whether anything can done about it, in line with the legislation available. The Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform leads on the matter, so I point the hon. Gentleman in that direction if he wishes to know more about that.

Online fraud is clearly a growing issue as more people undertake banking, shopping and a range of other activities online. They do need to be aware of the methods used by fraudsters to try to access online personal details, which can then be used to commit offences. He also raised the social sites on the internet such as Facebook and MySpace. I think a lot of people, when they sign up to them, are unaware that any personal information can be used by people with malign intent. They are also unaware that when they put material on such sites, they give away the copyright. All of those are things that people do not always think about when they go online.

We are now working on getting advertising on these sites to alert people to the risks of putting personal information on those very open forums and to help them to deal with the nuisance of spam messages. We are trying to tackle all these things with the “Get safe online” public awareness campaign—a partnership between the Government, various law enforcement agencies and the business sector, which has now been running for two years. The campaign aims to increase internet security and provide authoritative, trustworthy and independent advice and information from the Government, the police and other law enforcement authorities. In the end, the best way to protect people’s identity is for them to do it themselves, while the authorities are left to tackle the worst transgressions.

It is worth highlighting the many measures that the Government have taken to combat identity fraud and related crime. The identity fraud steering group was set up four years ago by the Home Office; it brings together law enforcement agencies, and private and public organisations to implement measures to counter identity fraud. One of those measures is the network of single points of contact that I met with last week. They raised some valid and interesting points about the action we were taking. They were very keen to ensure that legislation kept pace with the challenges presented to them daily by fraudsters who try to push at the edges of what is possible. That network is important to tackling identity fraud. By working together, they are developing greater knowledge and understanding of the issue and sharing information, which can help to prosecute and convict the fraudsters and so protect the public. We are always looking for ways to build on that good practice.

As well as increasing public awareness, we are also as a Government engaging in a lot of activity in both investigation and enforcement. The prevention work is critical because it is the first line of protection of the individual’s information. The identity fraud steering group manages the identity fraud awareness campaign and two years ago set up a website that has now had 300,000 visits—approximately 16,000 a month—by people looking for advice. It has focused on the public, but it is
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now providing information for businesses, too, so they can learn how to keep their information and that of their customers secure, and how best to protect the consumer.

I do not usually like to give a litany of legislation, but I think it is important today to outline some of the legislative changes that have been made to tackle problems of identity theft and the related fraud. There is no single offence of identity theft or fraud: it is what someone does with that information that then leads to prosecution. It is important that our legislation keeps pace with changing techniques. So we have introduced new legislation. The Fraud Act 2006, which came into force in January of this year, replaced the deception offences in the Theft Acts and introduced a new offence of fraud. The new offence includes false representation, failing to disclose information, abuse of position, possession of equipment to commit fraud—passport-factory type equipment—and making and supplying articles for use in fraud. In my local area, last week, two Brazilian men were imprisoned for three years each, I think—at least one of them was—for running a passport factory in Hackney. Since January, therefore, prosecutions have been made under that Act.

The Identity Cards Act 2006 criminalised for the first time the possession of false identity documents. Unbelievably, in the trusting world in which we used to live, it was okay to carry, say, 30 passports in a bag; that was not a criminal offence. Clearly, that is suspicious activity and very rarely would anyone need to do it. The criminalisation of the possession of false identity documents does not relate just to volume, but to the possession of a genuine document belonging to someone else without good reason. That would not affect a parent carrying a child’s passport, but if the hon. Gentleman was carrying my passport around, most people would wonder why, and he could be prosecuted under the Act. Those are small but important measures that help to tackle this problem.

The Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, which has just finished its Committee stage, will increase from six months to two years the penalty for the wilful misuse of personal data. That will be very significant and I look forward to prosecutions under that measure when it is enacted. In 2006, the Computer Misuse Act 1990 was amended to tackle unauthorised access or changes to computer data—another important change. We are also introducing legislation to allow public and private data sharing to combat identity fraud. Although critics of our approach to the national identity register imagine that there is a lot of communication between information systems across Government and sectors, sometimes that link is not there when it is needed to prevent and tackle fraud.

The Police and Justice Act 2006 allows the General Register Office to share information on recently deceased people and we will begin to grant approvals for organisations to access that information from January next year. That should tackle some of the “Day of the Jackal”-type frauds, where someone takes the identity of someone who has died. That will come into force properly next April, once the registered bodies are in place. The Serious Crime Act 2007 allows public authorities to disclose information for the purposes of tackling crime.

The Attorney-General is also considering the issue—quite rightly, a wide range of people in Government are examining identity fraud, as it is a growing concern.
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Earlier this year, the then Attorney-General published a review that recommended that the Government work with the police and businesses to tackle fraud. The Government have recently announced £28 million over the next three years to implement those recommendations, which shows that they are putting their money where their mouth is and working to ensure that the problem is tackled not just through legislation but through the necessary practical means.

The Attorney-General’s recommendations included the setting up of a national fraud strategic authority, which is at the proposal stage, and we hope that it will come into existence next April. Comments from hon. Members will be welcome as we bring together Government, the criminal justice system, business and public bodies to consider the matter with the City of London police.

Tom Brake: Will there be a review of how the Data Protection Act 1998 is interpreted? Often, it is seen as a bar to exchanging information on fraudulent activities.

Meg Hillier: It is not so much the Data Protection Act as its interpretation that is a problem. I shall examine the matter, but I cannot go into it in the time available now.

We hope that the work that the City of London police will carry out with the new body will result in more prosecutions, which will demonstrate that things are being done. Fraud is not a victimless crime that people can get away with. Furthermore, when people are convicted under legislation that I mentioned, we should make it clear that it is being used effectively to prevent crime.

To return to my first point, however, when we have the national identity register and identity cards, many of the problems will be much easier to solve and people’s identities far more secure. I look forward to the hon. Gentleman supporting us on that, and hopefully not following the example of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg), who has said that he will refuse to hold an identity card.

11.30 am

Sitting suspended until half-past Two o’clock.

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Road Fatalities

2.30 pm

Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough) (Lab): Thank you, Mr. Williams, for giving me the opportunity to raise a very important issue. I look forward to contributions from hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber, because I am sure that it is a common concern. The main reason why I have initiated the debate is a tragic case involving the death of my young constituent, Kyle McDermott, last year in Mexborough.

I presented a petition to the House on 29 October this year with more than 5,500 signatures. I shall quickly read out the petition:

The petition was raised by Kyle’s grandmother, Mrs. Catherine McDermott, who lives on Maple road in Mexborough—the road on which Kyle was killed. He was knocked down by a white van driven by 44-year-old Mr. Christopher Collins, who is also from Mexborough, although he was not detained by the police until 10 months later—it took the police 10 months to track that individual down. Mr. Collins served just six weeks of the five-month sentence that he was given.

Kyle’s grandmother, Cath McDermott, was one of the first on the scene after the accident. She told me of her memories of that dreadful evening. It was about five minutes past 6 on a nice summer evening, and Kyle had just been to the shops on his bike. Mrs. McDermott was sitting in the front room watching TV, when she heard screams from outside. She went outside and saw Kyle lying in the middle of the road. She told me that when she got to Kyle, he was vomiting blood and blood was coming from his ears. She told me how she cradled Kyle in her arms as she felt him slipping away. She also wanted me to tell the Chamber how grateful she was for all the efforts of the emergency services, which tried desperately hard to save Kyle. Indeed, Mrs. McDermott told me that they tried for nearly seven hours in the hospital to revive Kyle, but without any effect. I guess that none of us can imagine holding our grandchild in our arms while they slip away—it must be the worst feeling in the world.

I was never fortunate enough to meet Kyle during his short life. All I know is that he was a bonny and lively lad—he was described in the newspaper as “a little angel”. Kyle had many friends and loved sport; in fact, he had just had a trial with Rotherham United under-eights. He had just moved up to Mexborough Montagu junior school from Park Road infants. His death was a great blow to the whole community of Mexborough.

As stated in the petition, Mr. Collins was sentenced to just five months in prison, of which he served only six weeks. Shortly after his release, the chief constable of South Yorkshire, Mr. Meredydd Hughes, spoke out
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about the case in a local newspaper. The article, in the South Yorkshire Times of 27 September, was entitled “Chief Constable calls for tougher sentences on hit and run drivers”. It stated:

The article quotes Mr. Hughes as saying:

On 11 October 2006, three weeks after the first article appeared, another article was published in the South Yorkshire Times, under the banner headline, “Hit and run driver back behind bars”. The article stated:

Collins was sentenced to a further four months in prison for driving three weeks after being released. I am sure that hon. Members can see why so many people in my constituency feel that there is no justice.

That leads me to the first point of law that I want to raise with the Minister. Many drivers who are jailed for hit and runs are also banned from driving, but the ban operates while they are still in prison. My constituents and I think that a five-year ban should start only once an individual is released from prison, and I would like the Minister to comment on that when she sums up.

Of course, hit-and-run accidents are not a new phenomenon. Indeed, I lost my cousin, Stephen Ennis, to a hit-and-run accident as long ago as 1978. Stephen’s case is yet another example of why we need much stiffer penalties for hit-and-run accidents. The issue is best summed up by a newspaper cutting from the beginning of July 1978, with the headline “Licensee who left injured rider lying in road jailed”. The article continued:

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that was after he had sentenced Bristowe to prison for a month. The judge continued:

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