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The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, mentioned the European border guard being a step too far. I agree absolutely and would confirm that. We must not run before we can walk; we really must not move too quickly in that regard. I reinforce what was said in the response to that. As for physical burden-sharing, I again agree with the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, that it is not right for us to do that at the moment. Again, that would be moving too quickly, and there would be real problems there.

I would love to know whether the changes that have been made at Calais—and changes have been made—were because of the committee’s visit or because of mine. When I went there I was quite horrified as I saw all the illegals busily having their free evening meal over the other side of the canal before trying to climb over an insubstantial fence in the dark. I said that I thought that dogs were jolly good for that sort of thing, although one has to be a bit careful with them because they may go and eat innocent people. But I said that dogs would be a good idea and that maybe things needed reinforcing. Probably, however, the committee’s visit had more impact than mine, I fear to say. Things have now started being done and we are getting some good results. In northern France, 18,000 people were stopped from entering the UK illegally in the past year, which is quite impressive. So we are getting somewhere. Visits such as the committee’s are useful because they put pressure on—and now we are seeing things like the new double layer of fencing and the dog patrols. All those things are important and, although they will never completely stop people who are desperate to get into the country, they are beginning to have a real impact.

The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, mentioned that we are not part of Schengen and that my right honourable friend Liam Byrne said that we might join it. I am not sure exactly what his words were; the noble Lord read them out but I cannot remember them. All that I can say is that one never knows what might change one day; certainly there is no intention yet to do that. We do get benefits from not being part of it. There is a real danger, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, said, that we could be accused of cherry-picking, and we have to be careful, but the benefits that we get from being able to protect carefully our own border outweigh the disadvantages for this country, because we can look after our border that much more closely.

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I can confirm that we have discussed the position of Gibraltar with people there and I think that we have written to the committee on that. I may be wrong, but my note tells me that that is the case. If not, a letter is obviously on its way. That will resolve some of the issues there, but we are actually talking with them.

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, referred to this being not only an issue of counter-terrorism. That is absolutely the case; it is certainly not just being focused in that way. He is absolutely right, too, about the linkages with the other groups, such as UNHCR and all the other things in the quota. We need to do a lot more there.

As for the RABIT initiative, I did not know that rabbits were anything other than furry animals until I went through this report, so, again, that is something that I have learnt. It will consist of a team of border guards with particular skills, who can be deployed on request by member states to their territory. But currently there is no intention that they will process asylum claims, to answer the specific question on that.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, mentioned the issue of people talking to the European Union. I would support that and will encourage Ministers who are directly responsible for this area to do that. I was glad to hear that my honourable friend Meg Hillier spoke in Brussels. She is quite good about going there and has done so a number of times. I have certainly done it in my area of counter-terrorism and security. It is important that we do this. I was interested and delighted to hear what had been going on in Brussels today on the return directive, which was fascinating. I shall be interested to see exactly where it goes.

I have touched on the issue of lending equipment and things. We have done well on that and have offered a whole raft of things that have been used regularly. I hope that I can reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, and the noble Lords, Lord Jopling and Lord Teverson, that we are doing our best to get things done.

Looking ahead, Frontex faces some real challenges. It started out by looking at co-ordinating efforts at external European borders, but it has become clear that it can really become effective only if it sharpens its focus on the source and transit countries of migrants. It has to do more to harness the co-operation and work of these third states to improve their border management and encourage them to accept return of citizens.

Equally, Frontex must continue to work with other European law enforcement agencies—a number of speakers touched on that—but must not duplicate their efforts. For example, where evidence of criminality is encountered—the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, mentioned this—it should be passed directly to the border police and to Europol for further investigation and action. The signing of the agency’s recent working agreements with Europol is a welcome indication of how this is going, and similarly, the work with the United Nations.

Frontex is a great success story, which increases the expectations placed on it. We have to continue to respond to high expectations across Europe and to sustain and strengthen our partnership working with

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Frontex member states and with the source transit countries. The UK can meet those expectations. However, the agency must not be encouraged to run before it can walk. Year on year the Frontex staff and budget have doubled, and it is time for the agency to evaluate the lessons learnt. It must consolidate that learning to deliver real benefits and border management across Europe in the next few years. I agree entirely with the committee’s recommendations on that. I am certain that that is what must be done.

I thank the EU Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, and the team, for their insightful report, which has allowed a valuable debate, and I have certainly learnt a lot.

Lord Jopling: My Lords, I shall be very brief indeed. Members of the Committee and the staff who so ably support us will be delighted that the report on Frontex has had such a warm and broad welcome in your Lordships’ House. I am grateful to those who have contributed to the debate, which has been full and helpful.

With regard to the Minister’s wind-up speech, we shall have to share the credit for improving the fence at Calais. We have both done a pretty good job with that. I was particularly grateful for his ready apology for the late arrival of the Government’s response. I shall say no more about that, but I thank the Minister. I am glad that the Chief Whip stayed to hear so much of the debate. I know that she has taken on board a good many of the criticisms that I made, and I am most obliged to her for that.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Identity Theft

9.34 pm

Lord Sheikh asked Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to address the issue of identity theft.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a most timely and important debate, and, in the context of recent events concerning the Government’s inadequacies in the protection of their own information, one that is of crucial importance to a significant number of people. In the limited time available to me I should like to focus on the issue of identity theft and the enormous suffering that is caused to a great many people as a consequence of this hideous crime.

Home Office estimates suggest that identity fraud costs the United Kingdom economy more than £1.7 billion each year. This estimate represents an increase of £400 million over the past three years and is in all likelihood a conservative estimate of the trust cost. I welcome the contribution made to tackling this issue by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Identity Fraud, and in particular its report published in October last year. The recommendations in that report were sound and deserve proper action. I hope that the Minister will have some positive news to report to the House on what has been done since its publication.

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A broad theme in the report was the need to ensure that the police and the law enforcement agencies are provided with the appropriate resources to pursue those who make it their business to enact this most offensive behaviour, in particular by providing the strategic leadership to deliver the priority treatment in tackling this crime. The report made reference to the appointment of an identity fraud tsar and ensuring that sufficient energy and resources are available to identify and punish these fraudsters. Have the Government considered a review of the law and the resources available to law enforcement agencies? Will we see the establishment of dedicated identity fraud officers?

I would now like to talk about “phishing”. Phishing involves frauds when customers receive fraudulent emails purporting to come from banks, credit companies and other organisations. The intention is to trick people into divulging personal information which is used to commit a fraud. Phishing is one of the biggest identify frauds, and the fraudsters are often based overseas. The Metropolitan Police has set up a fraud alert website, but the police need more resources in view of the international dimension. Can more be done in conjunction with overseas countries?

Financial institutions and a number of other organisations often ask the prospective customer to produce a passport, and they have a policy of checking the document and obtaining verification through the government passport verification help line. We are pleased that the Government have set up this help line. However, there is no similar arrangement for checking driving licences or other government documents. Can that be looked into, and will the Minister comment on the possibility of checks being introduced for these documents? In regard to fraudulent passports, I am pleased to note that the Identity and Passport Service has deployed a database of lost and stolen passports and that a passport validation service is now available to public and private sector organisations. However, more can be done to encourage all relevant commercial organisations to utilise this service.

I understand that a national UK cybercrime policing unit is to be established which will enable the public to report cybercrime to a central unit. The unit will train officers and provide workshops for businesses across the country and will be staffed by dedicated officers. The problem is funding, to which the Government are not yet committed. I understand that the start-up costs amount to £1.3 million and that the total cost will be £4.5 million annually. Will the Minister comment on this unit and the provision of funding?

I further understand that the e-crime unit will form part of the emerging national fraud reporting centre which will be run by the national fraud strategic authority. There have been discussions between the Government and ACPO. Perhaps the Minister can clarify the outcome of those discussions.

There needs to be an extensive programme funded by the Government, relevant authorities and financial institutions to undertake the following: first, to make people aware that their credit files are available from credit reference agencies; and, secondly, where to go to report the theft of documents and correspondence

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and to obtain general advice and information. There must be an active programme to make people aware of precautions that they could take to guard against identity theft, which could include asking people to shred all personal documents, to check their bank statements, to chase the non-receipt of cheque books and cards, to redirect their post and update the electoral roll if they are moving home, and to regularly check their personal credit files. If people are sharing accommodation, they must take extra care over the security of their letters and documents. I am also pleased that national fraud prevention week takes place annually. More organisations could be encouraged to take part in this initiative.

There is also a problem with the impersonation of deceased persons, and I am pleased that there are now provisions to combat this awful practice. Powers are now granted to the General Register Office to supply a deceased person’s details to the police, crime agencies and other bodies for the purpose of prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of offences. Members of the public should, however, be encouraged and advised to register with services that remove the deceased person’s details.

I would now like to talk about businesses and companies where identity frauds are committed, including offences relating to the directors. These frauds include changing details of the company such as the address, false appointment of directors and fraudulent use of information already held. More can be done to urge companies to file information online, sign up to submitting all papers online and subscribe to an alert system. At present a very limited number of companies are doing this.

Financial services organisations should be encouraged to put identity fraud at the forefront of their considerations, and discussions should take place at board level as a regular agenda item. Institutions need to set up risk assessment committees that constantly examine the situation and recommend and implement the necessary protections. The private sector’s deployment of resources to confront these crimes is of the utmost importance and customers must be told of the dangers and the appropriate action to take.

The problem of identity theft is linked to that of cybercrime, which continues to pose an immediate threat. I welcome my party’s proposals, which include the establishment of a new national cybercrime unit within the police force and a similar department within the Crown Prosecution Service. My party’s suggestions are excellent. Has the Minister any comments on our proposals? Those who use encryption as a mechanism to confront the threat of fraud are to be congratulated. What action are the Government taking to increase the use of encryption to protect personal data?

In conclusion, it is disappointing that the Government have allowed themselves to become so completely focused on the identity card issue that they are not perceived to be as proactive in promoting the prevention of identity theft as I believe they should be. I hope the Minister will reflect on the proposals that I have presented today and on the work of the all-party group that has done much sterling work in this area. I look forward to his response.

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9.46 pm

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, we appreciate the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, in making us aware of the dangers of identity theft. However, we must ensure that remedies do not aggravate the situation and take away our cherished liberties, which we on these Benches are particularly concerned about. We must strike a healthy balance. Only last week we discussed the security of databases in a debate initiated by my noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer. I need not say much more from these Benches, as all that I wanted to say was said last week. The noble Lord’s speech tonight reinvigorates our determination to find a proper, liberal way forward. We welcome the initiative. As I say, our views were expressed last week and have not changed since.

9.47 pm

Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Sheikh for initiating this timely debate and for saying that the Government have concentrated too much attention on the ID card issue at the expense of tackling identity fraud. The clarion call of this debate is to draw attention to the progress that still needs to be made.

My noble friend rightly drew attention to the serious nature of the problem. As my honourable friend Nigel Evans, the chairman of the All-Party Group on Identity Fraud, has pointed out, the estimated cost of ID fraud is huge—in 2006, it was £1.7 billion, as my noble friend echoed. Nigel Evans has said that everyone is a potential victim of this crime and that an identity, if stolen, can take months to get back, involving the victim in costs of thousands of pounds. Often individuals who are totally unsophisticated in these matters are the innocent victims and in many cases are not in a position to afford these costs. With the increasing sophistication of cybernetics and the increasingly widespread skills possessed by many people, it is essential that the authorities and the Government keep ahead of the game.

Like my noble friend Lord Sheikh, I very much welcome the all-party group’s report on identity fraud, which was published in October 2007. This well researched report was critical of the banking industry’s reluctance in the early stages to admit the seriousness of the situation. I believe that this attitude has now changed. Certainly, the British Bankers’ Association gave an assurance that a working group to establish best practice had been set up. What ongoing dialogue are the Government having with the banking industry to address these problems? I hope that the Minister will take note of the recommendation in the report that they should explore the secure sharing of data between government and the private sector.

This is not the occasion to debate the all-party report in detail, but it is worth highlighting one or two constructive suggestions that the group came up with. These have been well covered by my noble friend Lord Sheikh. Some of them are possibly small in themselves but all contribute to a robust response to this ever increasing menace. For instance, there is the suggestion that councils should offer safe and secure disposal facilities for hard drives as part of their recycling

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process. The “electronic dustbin” is a fruitful source for cybercriminals. There should be a hotline to enable victims of an ID fraud attack to find out quickly how they should respond—a point again made by my noble friend. An advertising campaign should make people aware of the dangers posed by ID fraud, with dos and don’ts in plain language and simple precautions such as not giving banking details out on blogs and social networking websites—practices that are widespread particularly among young people.

The report was also critical of the Government. It noted that in the two years up to October 2007 there had been three Ministers with responsibility for identity theft. The report recommended the appointment of an identity fraud tsar, although this has been greeted by the banking industry with scepticism. My party has an alternative proposal. I raised the matter in the debate initiated by my noble friend Lady Trumpington on 20 March this year and was grateful for the thoughtful reply that we had from the Minister. My noble friend Lord Sheikh has spoken in some detail about the role of the police. My party has put forward some definitive proposals to deal with the problem.

In the March debate, I voiced my party’s concern that the decision to absorb the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit into the Serious Organised Crime Agency has all the marks of an exercise in cost-cutting and sends the wrong signals at this time, given the urgency of the problem that this debate has highlighted. We would like to see the NHTCU re-established with the Metropolitan Police as the ACPO head of cybercrime promoting a new police central e-crime unit. I look forward to hearing of the progress made in that respect from the Minister, although we felt that the proposal received no support from the Government at that time. I urge the Minister to look again at this sensible initiative. More fundamentally, as I said, we will designate a single Minister for cybercrime when and if we get back into office.

This debate also provides the opportunity to revisit two other points that I made in the March debate. Since April 2007, online financial fraud can no longer be reported to the police directly. It has to be reported first to the financial institution concerned and it is then up to that bank or credit card company to decide whether the matter should be reported to the police. I said then that this is a cumbersome method that distances the victim from the prosecuting authority. It is a fair assumption that this disconnect between victim and prosecutor could have contributed to the regrettably low number of convictions under the Computer Misuse Act 1990—only 89 in the five years between 2001 and 2006. How is this change in procedure working? I also voiced concern that the police database does not distinguish between crimes committed electronically or otherwise. In view of the urgency of the problem, which this debate has highlighted, this research shortcoming needs to be rectified.

We must not sleepwalk into complacency on the subject of cybercrime and, particularly, ID fraud. I hope that we shall have an early opportunity to debate cybercrime in depth. In the mean time, I express my thanks to my noble friend Lord Sheikh for giving us the opportunity to debate this subject and for the

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comprehensive review of company matters, which he covered in a very informed way. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s reply.

9.55 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My Lords, I welcome the opportunity given to us by the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, to discuss identity fraud, which the Government take very seriously. It is not a victimless crime that affects just government departments or financial institutions; it causes social harm to those individuals who have had their identities stolen by criminals to facilitate fraud. We know that some of the proceeds of identity fraud are used to finance wider criminal activity. I have my suspicions that sometimes such matters creep into terrorism as well. I am very concerned about that.

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