Recent Royal Assent for the UK Borders Act 2007 will allow the Government to introduce compulsory identity cards for foreign nationals from 2008. We shall publish our strategy for this rollout very shortly.
The House will know that the Government are already deploying biometric systems in order to strengthen our border security. A system of biometric visas has been rolled out in about 117 countries around the world. Some time this week we will take our millionth biometric visa, and nearly 10,000 individuals have already been matched against existing watch lists that we hold, including lists with the fingerprints we have taken of those who have been deported. It is clear to me that biometric visas are already providing an extremely effective defence against illegal immigration and that they will be increasingly important in the future.
I am interested in what the Minister said, but he knows that those who are resident in this country for three months or less will not be required to carry an identity card. A cursory understanding of the core al-Qaeda group makes it quite clear that its visits to countries such as ours will last a lot less than three months. Does that not drive a coach and horses through the whole concept of ID cards?
I disagree with that analysis. It was the former director general of the Security Service who said
“widespread use of false documents is an essential aspect of terrorist activities. Al-Qaeda’s own training manual requires its operatives to acquire false identities to hide their terrorist activities.”
The only countries in Europe other than the UK that do not have identity cards in place, or which are not introducing them, are Ireland and Denmark, and even Denmark has a national civil register. Our concern is to multiply the tools to fight terrorism that we have at our disposal, but the important point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, West (Mr. Bailey) is the need for ID cards to allow us to come downharder on illegal immigration. That is why last week we introduced tougher penalties for businesses that employ people illegally, and as we increase the penalties for breaking the rules, we need to make businesses’ job easier. Biometric ID cards for foreign nationals will help with that.
These illegal immigrants are here only because our border control failed in the first instance. Why does the Minister not strengthen the surveillance of passports and visas when people first apply for entry into the country, and ensure that people we do not wish to see here, or those who are a threat to this country, are not admitted in the first place?
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me for saying that that is a slightly 20th-century way of looking at border control. If we are to have adequate defences against illegal immigration in the future, we need to strengthen our checks abroad. That is why biometric visas are preventing would-be illegal immigrants from coming to this country before they get on a train, plane or boat for the UK. We have to secure our borders in the UK even further, which is why we are introducing a single border force.
I do not think that we will make real headway against illegal immigration until we stop the cause of it, which is illegal working. That is why we have to increase the penalties for businesses that break the rules. It is also why we have to make it easier for businesses to know whether a foreign national is who they say they are, and whether they have the right to work. That is where ID cards will help.