HL Deb 13 May 2004 vol 661 cc386-8

11.16 a.m.

Lord Dubsasked Her Majesty's Government:

How many criminal prosecutions, in the latest year for which figures are available, have failed because the accused gave false details of his identity resulting in a person unconnected with the offence being summoned to appear in court.

The Attorney-General (Lord Goldsmith)

My Lords, the Crown Prosecution Service now holds central records of the number of prosecutions which fail owing to lack of identification evidence or doubts over identification. However, it does not include the level of detail to answer the precise Question asked by the noble Lord. That could be obtained only by examining individual case files at disproportionate cost. CPS areas report that defendants give false identification particulars regularly, for example at some London courts. This is said to happen two to three times per week.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble and learned friend for that Answer. I fully understand why the detailed information would not be readily available. Does he care to venture an opinion as to whether identity cards would make a significant difference to the problem that he has described?

Lord Goldsmith

My Lords, whether they would make a particular difference to the problem is one question. However, I would make clear, as indeed the consultation paper issued by the Government on identification cards shows, that false identity is a significant issue in a number of areas, not just this area. False identity is a criminal activity. ID fraud is growing and costs the country more than £1.3 million a year. We believe that multiple or false identities are used in more than one-third of terrorist-related activity, in organised crime and money laundering. So, we believe that as regards crime generally, ID cards would have a significantly helpful impact.

Lord Henley

My Lords, surely the noble and learned Lord could answer the simple question; that is, whether identity cards would or would not make a difference in this case. It seems pretty obvious that there is an answer. Surely he can give an Answer to the question.

Lord Goldsmith

My Lords, the kind of case to which the Question relates is typically one in which someone is stopped for a motoring offence and is asked to produce documents at a police station. At that stage a false name is given, perhaps a brother's or a friend's name. When the police summon that person to court because the documents have not been produced, it is then discovered that the police officer cannot identify that person. That is a specific type of issue with that low-level type of crime where someone is stopped and gives a false name. As noble Lords will know from the consultation paper, the proposal that is put forward is not one, and will not be one, that requires the carrying of identification cards even when those cards become compulsory. So, it is not clear to me that this necessarily would answer that particular point.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord not agree that this is yet another example, not of the importance of identity cards but of the importance of the authorities having biometric information about individuals with a number which can relate to them? The card will tell you nothing. Provided the biometric information exists somewhere, that should enable certain identification between the person and the corresponding number on other records, where appropriate.

Lord Goldsmith

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right, which is why the Government believe that using biometric data is a very important part of the way forward in relation to existing ID cards and the proposals. The noble Lord is right: that sort of information makes it very difficult for an identification to be falsified because the material is particular to that individual.

Lord Davies of Coity

My Lords, I understand my noble and learned friend's explanation with regard to some traffic offences, but this Question refers to criminal prosecutions, which I think reflect the seriousness of the situation. Am Ito understand that if someone is apprehended for a criminal offence the police do not get supporting evidence of identity? If that is the case, why are the people not apprehended until they can prove who they are?

Lord Goldsmith

My Lords, the fact remains that traffic offences are still criminal offences and when prosecuted they are criminal prosecutions. So the answer is right in the way that I have given it. The noble Lord is also right to say—and this is why I framed the answer to the noble Lord, Lord Henley, in the way that I did—that in relation to more serious cases it is not a question of the police simply stopping someone, taking his alleged name and then waiting to see him in court. They will bring someone in, interview that person and carry out checks and inquiries, which are very likely to identify who that person actually is even if a false name was given in the first place.

Lord McNally

My Lords, whether or not identity cards would produce the result that some noble Lords believe they would, will the Attorney-General clarify what happens when false information is given? He has identified that as a criminal offence in itself. Surely, one way of curbing this practice would be to pursue the matter where wrong information is given and raise the stakes substantially to deter the practice.

Lord Goldsmith

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right. In the example I gave, at the moment if someone gives a false identification and the wrong person is summoned to court, then so long as the true individual can be identified that will be a criminal offence and will be prosecuted either as wasting police time or, in a more serious case, maybe as perverting the course of justice.

As to the more general issue, again the noble Lord will know that the consultation paper and the draft Bill propose further criminal offences in relation to the abuse of identity. Indeed, the Home Office has announced the launch of a website, which will help people to protect their own identities, and that should be going live in the summer.