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Specialist Printing Equipment and Materials (Offences) Bill

Volume 589: debated on Friday 5 December 2014

Bill, not amended in the Public Bill Committee, considered.

Third Reading

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I say immediately what a pleasure it is to see my hon. Friend the Minister on the Front Bench. It seems just a short while ago that he and his now wife used to campaign for me, in those halcyon days in Basildon. It is very good that he is the Minister responding to the debate. I also want to praise our hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke), who piloted the Bill through the House last year but did not have my good fortune. I also thank all Members for giving up their valuable time and serving in the Committee.

I am sure the House will agree that the available figures for identity crime are worrying. Figures published by the National Fraud Authority revealed that almost one third of UK adults had been the victim of identity crime at some point. It is estimated that 4.3 million adults were victims in 2012 alone. Of those, 2.7 million lost money, with an average of £1,200 lost per person. To the most vulnerable members of our society, the damage caused goes much further than just this loss of money. Some victims spend a lot of time attempting to clear their names and are chased by debt collection companies unaware that the person has been the victim of identity crime.

Of course, criminals are not concerned about the damage they cause and will continually try to stay ahead of the game by obtaining the latest specialist printers to make a wide range of false documents. They rely on members of the specialist printing industry to supply the specialist printing equipment to them, either by tricking suppliers into thinking they will use it for legitimate purposes, or by colluding with unscrupulous specialist printing companies. By supplying this equipment to people who will use it to commit crime, they enable some of the most serious crimes affecting this country and compromise the safety of the public.

I recently met the Metropolitan police, and was concerned to hear that they have numerous recent examples of illegal document factories being uncovered and documents relating to thousands of identities being found. This includes passports, driving licences, birth certificates, immigration documents, EU identity cards, national insurance number cards—the list goes on. However, in none of these cases has the police been able to prosecute those who supplied the specialist equipment to the criminals, even when there was evidence that they knew what the equipment would be used for. That is why the Bill is needed.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on getting his Bill through to Third Reading. I was delighted to serve on the Bill Committee. Will he confirm for the benefit of the House that the Bill will place no costs on business—no extra regulation or bureaucracy—and that the only people who will suffer as a result of the Bill are the criminals, who deserve to suffer?

My hon. Friend, whom I thank for serving on the Committee, makes an excellent point: there will be no cost to the public purse, other than the cost of the courts and prosecutions.

The Bill will support the police in targeting rogue suppliers who collude with criminals, and if there is evidence that an individual or business has knowingly supplied specialist printing equipment for criminal purposes, they could face imprisonment for up to 10 years and/or an unlimited fine. It covers the manufacture of documents that can be used for a range of identity purposes of the type I have outlined. These documents provide the holder with access to various services and benefits across both the public and private sectors.

In the wrong hands, false versions of these documents can cause untold damage, including enabling illegal immigrants to merge into our society and fraudulently access public services to which they are not entitled. Crime committed through the use of false documents can have a serious impact on businesses, particularly small businesses, and that can also have a serious impact on the economy. The Bill provides a simple and targeted measure to deal with this serious problem. We recognise that false document factories are a cross-border problem, so this Bill will apply to the supply of specialist printing equipment for criminal activity occurring in any jurisdiction. If a supplier in England and Wales sells equipment to an identity fraudster knowing that they will use it to manufacture false documents, they will themselves be prosecuted, whether the manufacture itself happens in England, Scotland, France or even Australia.

This Bill will empower the police to deal effectively with those who seek to profit from identity crime. It sends a clear message that if anyone knowingly supplies specialist printing equipment to criminals, they will face the consequences and be prosecuted.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) on getting the Bill to this stage and on garnering support from Members on both sides of the House. I welcome the draft Specialist Printing Equipment and Materials (Offences) Bill. It is indeed a step towards cutting off the supply of machinery and equipment to those who intend to commit serious crimes such as identity theft and document forgery, including of passports, driving licences and credit cards.

To stop those who knowingly supply specialist equipment to criminals who undertake this activity is also to send a strong message of deterrence before these crimes are committed. Identity fraud ruins lives and it can take victims months or even years to undo the damage that perpetrators cause. The damage—financial, professional and personal—can be enormous, and any steps we can take to prevent this will be welcome.

We know how false documents are used by criminals across a spectrum of offences. Giving the police powers to stop this activity can have a real impact on the wider fight against other crimes, too. We also know that the police have identified this gap in enforcement. The police find it difficult to prosecute those who knowingly supply this equipment to criminals because of the absence of a targeted offence. By creating a specific criminal offence of knowingly supplying specialist printing equipment to criminals, the Bill will help the police to end this practice. This Bill is to be welcomed and there is widespread support across the House for it. I wish the hon. Gentleman the best of luck with this Bill.

I add my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) for taking the Bill through the House and for raising awareness of this serious issue, which affects a significant number of people throughout the country. I am certainly grateful for his kind words of introduction, and I am very pleased to be here to support him, as I have in so many different ways over the years, and to see this Bill progressing.

Stealing people’s identities, or creating false identities, is generally used as an enabler for a number of serious crimes such as fraud, terrorism, immigration offences or gaining access to children and vulnerable adults. I therefore agree with my hon. Friend that the Bill is a very important step in tackling a crime that has the potential to endanger the safety and security of our citizens. I welcome the support for the Bill across the House and endorse the comments of the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra), who spoke for the Opposition. My hon. Friend, working in a cross-partisan way, has secured the support that the Bill requires, underlining the important issues, recognised on all sides of the House, that show why the Bill is needed.

It is important to tackle this issue at its source and prevent criminals from gaining access to the specialist printing equipment that is capable of making a range of identity documents, such as false passports, driving licences, travel documents and birth certificates. As the hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Jim Dowd) rightly pointed out in Committee, it is possible to prosecute individuals or businesses for conspiracy to defraud under the Fraud Act 2006. However, this is not easy to prove and requires a lot of time and resources to take forward.

The Bill will strengthen the police’s powers in this area and send the message that this Government and this House take criminal behaviour very seriously: if you are colluding with criminals, you are a criminal. There is strong support for this Bill from both the police and the specialist printing industry. Some 81% of respondents to the Government’s public consultation supported this measure, with 93% agreeing that legislation would act as a deterrent to those who seek to sell this equipment to fraudsters. That is important, because if fraudsters cannot get hold of the specialist equipment that they need to manufacture false documents, they will not be able to manufacture them, and we shall be able to prevent a range of crimes that could otherwise have been committed through the use of those false documents.

The Bill is proportionate. It does not affect the law-abiding majority, but introduces sanctions to deal with those who knowingly collude with identity fraudsters. I hope that all Members will support this much-needed measure, which is an important step in the tackling of identity crime. I congratulate my hon. Friend again, and I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.