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Identity Security: Visas

Volume 707: debated on Thursday 12 February 2009


Asked By Lord Corbett of Castle Vale

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many arrests have been made for identity forgery in the last year, following the introduction of biometric visas.

My Lords, following the introduction of biometric checks as part of the visa application process, more than 3 million sets of fingerprints have been enrolled. Checks against these biometrics have identified more than 5,246 cases of identity fraud or changes of identity. Twenty-five applicants were subsequently arrested by the police force of the host country in 2008, and one applicant so far in 2009 has been arrested.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that encouraging news. Can he confirm that without the use of biometrics, it is likely that the 5,246 individuals he mentioned would have gained entry to the United Kingdom, would have remained here illegally and possibly worked illegally as well? Does the checking of fingerprints for biometric visas identify those who have previously come to the attention of either the police or immigration officers as a result, for example, of criminal convictions or failed asylum applications?

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right that this does allow us to make much better checks on who we allow into the country. Indeed, in 2007 we refused 474,000 visas for a number of reasons, among which would be as a result of these checks. The reason for the small number of those who have been arrested is that we have in place strict rules in various countries around the world. We passed on 490, but those rules, known as the police referral programme, mean that we have to be sure that within each country things will be handled in a similar way to this country. We do not pass on the information willy-nilly. That is the reason for such a small number when compared with the very large number of irregularities we find. However, those irregularities can help us dramatically in that we often find people with multiple identities.

I have to say that primarily the irregularities are not based on counterterrorist reasons, but the system does have value in that regard. We know very well, for example, that al-Qaeda specifically tells its people to adopt multiple personalities. Those whom we have caught and put away in prison in this country often have up to 30 different identities, but this system absolutely stops that. They might not be who they say they are, but they cannot be anybody else because the biometrics tie down their identity.

My Lords, one of the other arms for preventing illegal immigrants and enhancing security is the e-borders programme. By what date will the full e-borders programme be implemented and what will it cost?

My Lords, I do not have that specific information with me. The plan is that there will be a 95 per cent check of everyone going in and out of this country by 2010, but I shall come back to the noble Baroness if that date has changed. The total cost of the programme has not yet been finalised. We have now got down to the last two people who are contracted for this but, again, I shall come back with the latest data for the full costs.

My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that, whatever the costs, it is particularly good value for money?

My Lords, I agree totally with my noble friend. As I mentioned in the debate last night, for some decades we have not properly grasped the nettle of controlling our borders and immigration. That is now beginning to happen. In 1994, I think it was, we stopped counting people out of the country; we will now be counting people out and in. We will have exact details of the persons they say they are so that they cannot come in as anyone else. This will be extremely valuable. The pilot studies that we have run with some airlines flying to south Asia have already bowled out a large number of people who have done some pretty nasty things. As I say, they are not primarily terrorists but people who have done some other very unpleasant things. The pilots have been very successful. The fact that we have this clear check is very important and is no less than the people in this country would expect.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that some people already within the country are assuming different identities all the time? Having suffered my pocket being picked a week or so ago, the police informed me that, in London, when they have cause to arrest people for something else, these people can come up with as many as 10 different identities but the police check shows that they are all one person. The biometric visa does not help because they are already here. Does the Minister have any comment on that?

My Lords, I cannot believe that gift. This, of course, leads directly to the issue of identity cards, the great joy of which is that one will be able to tell. Again, it might not be who he actually is, but he is going to be that person on the identity card. That is who he is—bang; he will have one identity. The security measures within the identity card make it very difficult to tamper with and give some surety. Identity theft is a bad thing and we have focused on it a great deal. It reads across into e-commerce and some of the problems we have there. There has been a great rise in the number of incidents and that is one of the reasons why we need to pin down identity. As the noble Baroness rightly said, often when the police arrest someone it can take them two or three hours to establish who the person is. Again, the quicker this can be done and the matter sorted out, the better it is for people who are innocent, we catch the people who are guilty and it allows the police to get on with all the other things they should be doing.

My Lords, what arrangements, if any, are in place to monitor and control the land frontier with the Republic of Ireland?

My Lords, that is a little beyond the scope of the Question. At the moment, the land frontier is exactly the same as it has ever been. It is, indeed, as it was when I did the odd patrol on it. One of the great difficulties was making sure in which country you were. But we have no changes in mind at the moment.

My Lords, what is the situation in relation to people who have dual nationality, particularly those possessing more than one passport? Is the system being monitored to identify the people who travel in on one passport and go out on another?

My Lords, the noble Lord raises a good point, which was raised and discussed by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, in the debate yesterday. There is clearly an issue here. It is not only a question of whether we check if more than one passport is held—we do not monitor that specifically at the moment—but whether people with our nationality should be allowed to fight for other countries’ armed forces, and what exactly is the position of people with other passports fighting for our Armed Forces. We need to look at this area. There is not a specific programme for looking it at the moment but it is something that we need to do and should do .

My Lords, how is the iris recognition system working? What percentage of people sign up for that? How satisfied are they with it?

My Lords, I am afraid that I do not know the answer to that. Perhaps I may write to the noble Lord on those specific points.

My Lords, is it not the case, as the Government have told us, that it will not be laid down that everyone must carry an identity card, even when they are introduced? If people can choose whether to have one, how will that help in the circumstance that the Minister earlier outlined?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is correct that people will not have to carry the card with them. To go through an example, let us say that the police stop someone for some kind of offence. They will try to establish an identity, which is often involves a long debate—your Lordships might have seen the odd programme on television showing these incidents going on. They say, “Where do you live? Will you take us back there?” and they often then go back to the person’s house. One would expect to find an identity card there and the person somehow to be able to prove who they are. They should have some documentation, which, in that case, one would be able to find. That would then bowl out instantly multiple identities.