Identity Cards Bill
Baroness Scotland of Asthal (Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office; Labour)
No apology is necessary, not least because the noble Lord spoke to his amendments so expeditiously. All the amendments narrow the grounds on which information can be provided without consent, on a basis very similar to those advanced under the previous group of amendments. I had hoped that I had been able to persuade noble Lords, although I understand that I may not have, that the national identity register will be held in confidence and will not be open to access.
Much has been said about it being a new agency. Of course it will be, but it will be predicated on the foundations of the agency that we already have. It will cover much of the information that we already hold securely in relation to the 80 per cent of the people in our country who currently have a passport. I need to reassure noble Lords that we are not talking about totally different information. That information, albeit held through passports, is currently accessed from time to time in a way that is proper. The change will add biometric data to the register, but the fundamental information held in relation to many people will not be very different.
It is right and proper that information held on the register should be provided to the police and the security services when required for purposes spelt out in Clause 19. Clause 202 would remove the ability to specify in an order any additional purposes. I hope that noble Lords recognise that the police undertake work that falls outside the definitions of the detection of crime or in the interests of national security. For example, there could be circumstances when there is a wider service to the public that would require the police to be able to verify information from the national identity register. The power could be used, for example, to identify a body after an accident where there is no other means of identification or to help trace a missing, vulnerable person who may be in danger because of a medical condition. These situations may be considered good enough reasons to allow information to be provided from the register without consent. Earlier, I mentioned the tragic circumstances on
Amendment No. 204 would prevent the provision of information to Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) for other purposes specified by order, and limit it to those specified in paragraphs (a) to (e) of subsection (4). Subsection (4) of Clause 19 was drafted in a detailed fashion to ensure that all the relevant functions of the new HMRC were covered. Subsection (4)(f) is still required to give the flexibility to allow the circumstances listed to be extended in line with additional work which might be allocated to this still new department. Remember, we are not talking of wholesale access to information; we are talking about basic identity details being provided. The rules under Clause 23 will allow, as I have already reminded the Committee, detailed rules to be laid down in the secondary legislation about how any such request for information to be provided to HMRC will be handled.
Amendment No. 205 would prevent regulations being made that would permit a government department, including a Northern Ireland government department, to be provided with information for the purposes specified in that order. The provision of identity information from the register to other government departments is a vital part of the identity card scheme and will enable many of the benefits to be realised. It is worth remembering that this subsection does not authorise the provision of information within paragraph 9 of Schedule 1.
We envisage these regulations being used, for example, to make provision for the Department for Work and Pensions to receive information connected to its functions in investigating benefit fraud. It could also be used to make provision for information to be provided to the Department for Constitutional Affairs for the enforcement of fines. We have spoken often in this House about the problems of enforcement. Usually, the two things one needs for enforcement are correct name and address. They make all the difference.
The order-making powers in Clause 19 are strictly limited. Any order or regulation would need to specify the public functions for which any information could be provided from the register, and subsection (7) provides that the powers can only be used to authorise provision of information where it is necessary in the public interest. Any statutory instruments made under these powers will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. I am therefore pleased to respond to Amendments Nos. 206 and 207, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, which seek to make the Secretary of State's powers to prescribe the functions of another government department or Northern Ireland department that would warrant provision of information subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.
The amendments mirror a recommendation of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in its recent report. As I have said before, we have looked at that report and are inclined to agree with its recommendation in this respect. With noble Lords' consent, I shall return to this matter after further thought on Report.
Amendment No. 208 would remove the ability to provide information to a designated documents authority without consent. The provision in Clause 19(6) is included for good reason. In the future we may designate a different category of document that would not be issued by the new agency or come under the responsibility of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, or any of his successors—for example, a driving licence issued by DVLA or Driver and Vehicle Licensing Northern Ireland. This power would ensure that the agency was able to have the same information provided to it, and that all ID cards would be issued in a uniform manner.
I hope that I have explained fully why the measures we seek are proportionate and necessary, and meet the needs of the circumstances. I therefore invite the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.