Identity Cards Bill
Baroness Scotland of Asthal (Minister of State (Criminal Justice System and Law Reform), Home Office; Labour)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. Our identities are precious and need to be protected. The Identity Cards Bill establishes a clear legislative framework for an identity cards scheme that will enable everyone aged 16 and over and resident in the United Kingdom to hold a biometric identity card, linked to a national identity register.
Clause 1 establishes clear statutory purposes for the scheme so that there is no possibility of confusion as to what it is for. Clause 1(3)(a) makes it clear that the purpose of the identity cards scheme is, first, to provide people with a convenient method of proving their identity. That is exactly why most people want identity cards.
Current means of identification are simply not secure or reliable enough. This was pointed out clearly in Identity Fraud: A Study, published by the Cabinet Office in 2002. However good the security printing of existing documents is, there is always a risk that they can be forged. Existing documents cannot link an individual to a single, unique identity, whereas a biometric identity card scheme will allow each and every one of us to prove conclusively that we are who we say we are whenever we need to prove our identity. Anyone who has teenage children will know the importance to them of being able to prove their age. A biometric identity card will do that quickly and easily.
Photographic identity documents are increasingly required in a wide range of circumstances; for example, by low-cost airlines, even for domestic flights. That creates problems for people, often elderly people, who do not have a current passport or photo-card driving licence. Identity cards will fill the gap.
We cannot stand still in the knowledge of the threats that we all face from identity fraud. Not only does it cost the country an estimated £1.3 billion per year, but it creates real concerns for those of us at risk and real problems for the victims of fraudsters. Not surprisingly, sales of shredders have increased dramatically in recent years, as people have realised the importance of shredding personal and financial documents. A recent report published in Which? showed that a quarter of those questioned knew someone who had had their identity taken and misused or had experienced that personally. It is no wonder that the same survey showed that more than two-thirds of us were concerned about identity fraud.
As a guard against financial fraud, reliable proof of identity is rightly needed before a bank or building society account can be opened or a large financial transaction made. By removing the need to rely on existing documents such as passports or insecure documents such as utility bills, biometric identity cards will provide the answer.
In accordance with standards laid down by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, our own biometric British passports with a facial image biometric will be introduced in about a year's time. These will become a requirement for international travel. For example, the United States has already made clear that countries which do not provide their citizens with biometric passports will be excluded from its visa waiver scheme. Thus if the United Kingdom were not to introduce its own biometric passports, British citizens visiting the United States would first have to obtain a visa.
Lord Maclennan of Rogart (Spokesperson in the Lords, Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs; Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. Is there any intention to achieve reciprocity in this respect? Do the British Government intend to make similar demands of American citizens?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal (Minister of State (Criminal Justice System and Law Reform), Home Office; Labour)
My Lords, the British Government have not come to a view on that, but it is important to acknowledge what the position is in relation to the international community. It is not only the Americans who have taken this view. Noble Lords will know that our other European partners are also looking at biometric data in relation to passports. We may soon face a situation where the main way in which identity will be verified will be by using biometric data. That is the reality, irrespective of what our American colleagues across the water choose to do.
It is important to recognise that if the United Kingdom does not introduce its own biometric passports, British citizens travelling not only to the United States, but also elsewhere, may in due course find themselves in more difficulty than is necessary.
Much of the cost of introducing identity cards will need to be incurred in any case to keep our passports up to acceptable international standards. This will include the plans we have already announced for the introduction of personal interviews for all first-time passport applicants. It really does make good sense for us now to build on the existing plans for biometric passports to provide our own biometric identity card scheme. This is a sensible addition.
Some 80 per cent of adults already hold a passport. On our current plans this would allow for the issue of the first identity cards in 2008 by a new agency incorporating the United Kingdom Passport Service and working closely with the Immigration and Nationality Directorate of the Home Office.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal (Minister of State (Criminal Justice System and Law Reform), Home Office; Labour)
My Lords, DNA has been excluded because it is clear that if DNA material were to be included, it would go beyond simply making this a means of identification.
I know that we are about to have a long and interesting debate, but I should very much like to open it so that we could then have that debate.
Baroness Ludford (Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, the noble Baroness is making a connection between the international requirement for biometric identifiers on passports and the ID cards that the Government wish to introduce. However, can she confirm that the ICAO standard for passports is just a digitised photograph? It does not include fingerprints or any other biometric identifiers. I think that that point needs to be made clear if the ID card is purported to be based on international passport requirements.
My Lords, of course the ICAO digitised photograph requirement is one thing, but the noble Baroness will know that three methods are currently under consideration. The first is the iris image, the second relates to facial recognition and the third is fingerprints. By fashioning our scheme so that it can respond to those three different types of identification, we are better preparing ourselves for the future.
My noble friend is right to point out that DNA is not being used. As I said, there has been much debate and concerns have been expressed about the inappropriate use of such data and whether they are truly to be used simply as a means of identification. We think that by restricting the data to facial biometrics, fingerprints and iris images, we will draw a line that makes it crystal clear that this is for identification and no other purpose.
Biometrics are a new concept and some have asked us the obvious question: will it work? I can reassure noble Lords that the National Physical Laboratory carried out a study in 2003 and published a report which concluded that:
"In principle, fingerprint or iris recognition can provide the identification performance required for unique identification over the entire UK adult population".
Not only that, but the United Kingdom Passport Service has also carried out a trial of biometric enrolment of a sample of some 10,000 individuals to test the practicalities of enrolling biometrics. This has included using a mobile enrolment unit that could travel to rural areas as well as to offshore islands.
In addition, we are looking very carefully at the real and practical difficulties that might be faced by some groups of individuals, for example the elderly, the housebound and those with special needs because of illness or disability. I cannot give detailed answers today on how we will deal with every one of those groups when the identity card scheme is introduced. However, I can say that officials in the identity cards programme are in contact with representatives of special interest groups, for example the Royal National Institute for the Blind, and I give a commitment that we will look sensitively at all genuine reasons for special treatment in the process of obtaining an identity card. We have recently undertaken research among race, faith, disabled and other groups to identify the special needs of particular groups in the design of the scheme. This includes people with hearing difficulties, with impaired sight and with arthritis. We will be publishing the research later this month.
The legislation allows for this and Clause 41(4) makes clear that any regulations made under the Bill can make different provision for different cases, and can provide for exemptions and exceptions.
The identity cards scheme is being introduced not only as a convenient way for individuals to prove their identity, it is also necessary in the wider public interest. This is the second arm of the statutory purposes as set out in Clause 1(3)(b) and (4). The public interest is defined in five ways, and I think it would be helpful if I deal with each of them in turn.
First, we have national security. Identity cards on their own will not stop the risk of terrorism. However, we have been advised that they will help. We have also been advised that more than one third of terrorist suspects are known to have used false identities. We should be clear that identity cards will not somehow prevent suicide bombers, but they will disrupt the activities of those who aid and abet terrorism by hiding behind multiple and false identities. By making it harder or impossible to assume a false identity, or to use multiple identities, it will be much more difficult for terrorists to ply their trade, and there is no doubt that the introduction of identity cards will help the police and security services in their work.
The second part of the public interest definition is the prevention or detection of crime. I can reassure your Lordships that the police will have no new powers to demand proof of identity or to require people to produce an identity card in the street as a result of this Bill. It will be possible for the police to seek information from the national identity register to check an individual's identity with or without that individual's consent, provided that it can be justified for the prevention or detection of crime.
In the case of biometric information, Clause 23 means that the police will have first to check their own records before seeking the provision of information from the register about a suspect's photograph or fingerprints, and Parliament will also be able to agree specific rules as provided for in Clause 23 on how information will be provided to the police or other organisations. These will include provisions such as the level in the organisation at which the request must be approved.
We have also protected the most sensitive area of the register—the records of how the card or database entry has been checked previously (paragraph 9 of Schedule 1). This information can be provided only for purposes connected with the prevention and detection of serious crime or for the existing statutory purposes of the intelligence and security agencies.
The third part of the public interest definition is the enforcement of immigration controls. Most people will be entered on the register when they apply for a designated document. Clauses 4 and 10 provide for this. It is intended to designate British passports issued to United Kingdom residents. Once designated, anyone over the age of 16 applying for a British passport will be entered on the national identity register and will be issued also with an identity card. The passport and identity card will be issued as a package and it will no longer be an option to obtain a passport on its own once it has been designated.
In the case of foreign residents, the intention is to designate the residence documents issued to foreign nationals and for these to double as an identity card. What this means is that, once designated, anyone applying for these documents and legally resident in the United Kingdom will have had their identity verified to the highest standard and will have been issued with a biometric ID card. This will act as a major deterrent to illegal immigration as eventually everyone resident here legally will have a biometric ID card which will confirm their identity as well as their right to reside here and, if they are only a temporary resident, such as a foreign student, any limits on their stay.
The fourth part of the public interest definition is the enforcement of prohibitions on illegal working. One of the key pull factors for illegal immigrants is our healthy employment market, combined with the fact that even the most reputable of employers can find it is too easy to be hoodwinked by forged papers.
We are stepping up our enforcement activity against illegal working. During 2004 the Immigration Service carried out 1,618 operations against illegal working. In the future, the possession of an identity card which confirms an individual's right to work in the United Kingdom will make it much easier for the vast majority of legitimate employers to ensure that they comply with the law. It will also make prosecution of unscrupulous employers simpler.
The final public interest is to secure the efficient and effective provision of public services. Clauses 15 to 17 allow Parliament to approve regulations for public services to require an identity card to be produced before an individual accesses a particular service. This is not a "one size fits all" provision. Parliament will have to approve individual regulations for individual services and there are obligations on the Government to consult about any proposals. However, the principle is surely right that when seeking access to a public service such as free health treatment, or applying for the payment of state benefits, an individual should be asked to produce an identity card that confirms his or her identity as a first step in proving entitlement to the service. Of course, as we have always made clear, this will not interfere with the delivery of emergency healthcare or other services. As I have already explained, we expect that most people will obtain their ID card when they apply for a British passport or a foreign national's residence permit.
However, the Government have been clear that the identity cards scheme which is being introduced is designed to become compulsory. We therefore need to have the debate on the principle of compulsion now. The provisions on compulsion are in Clauses 6, 7 and 9 and are about the timing of compulsion and the precise categories of people who will be required to register. It would be possible to phase in this requirement for different categories at different times and to exempt certain groups, such as, perhaps, the very elderly. The Government must publish their reasons for compulsion, they must allow both Houses of Parliament to comment on their proposition for compulsion and must take account of these comments before laying an order before both Houses. Under this so-called super-affirmative procedure both Houses must then agree to the order setting a date for compulsion.
The means of enforcing the compulsion to register are via civil financial penalties. It will not be a criminal offence to fail to register when the scheme is compulsory because we do not see the need to burden the police and the criminal courts with enforcing the scheme. We will use civil means. Clauses 34 and 35 set out the procedure for objecting to or appealing against any civil penalty that may be imposed.
I express my gratitude to the Joint Committee on Human Rights for its contribution to the debate on the Government's proposals, and welcome both its letter to my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and its subsequent report.
As my right honourable friend said in his reply of
The committee took the view that it is not the compulsory issue of ID cards which raises convention issues, but the storage and disclosure of information on the register. The Government believe that the limitations which have been placed on the information which may be held on the register and the safeguards which regulate the information which may be disclosed from the register ensure that the interference with Article 8 is proportionate.
I can confirm to the House that a delegated powers memorandum on the Bill was submitted to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee on
The Identity Cards Bill is a piece of enabling legislation and so it cannot be expected to include all the detailed administrative procedures for the card scheme on the face of the Bill. Although there are a large number of delegated powers—some 60 in all—many of the separate powers relate to the same issue, for example the application process for an ID card and the format of the card itself. Many of the precise administrative details will depend on the continuing work of designing the scheme and will need to be finalised much nearer the launch of the identity cards scheme which is currently planned for 2008. These details will also, rightly, be subject to change and amendment after the identity cards scheme is launched so as to take account of future developments.
The Government will, of course, look very carefully at the views of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee on the Bill, when its report is published.
We intend that the first biometric identity cards should be issued in 2008 and there will be further opportunities between now and then for your Lordships to look at the detailed provisions to be set out in secondary legislation.
The simple fact is that the possession of a clear, unequivocal and unique form of identity—in the shape of a card linked to a database holding biometrics—will offer clear benefits to us all. That is why 80 per cent of the public in recent surveys say that they support the introduction of ID cards.
I shall, of course, listen with great interest to the points that noble Lords have to make both on the Bill itself but also on the practical implementation of the identity cards scheme—something which we have become very accustomed to hearing from the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. However, the Government are convinced that the introduction of identity cards is in the interests of the nation.
I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, will confirm her party's unequivocal support for the principle of identity cards—which I understand is the clearly expressed view of the leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition in another place.
The current debate on identity cards began over three years ago, and we have proceeded in a measured way through consultation on the principles and, most recently, on draft legislation. We have no intention of wavering, and the Government are now determined to press ahead with the introduction of identity cards starting, on current plans, in 2008. The Bill sets out a clear legal framework for the scheme.
Identity cards will provide a means for everyone legally resident in this country to assert their right to be here and to help them gain access to the services to which they are justly entitled. Identity cards will help to preserve national security and assist the work of the law enforcement agencies. The Bill will enable the public to have the identity card systems that they say they want. I commend the Bill to the House.
Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Baroness Scotland of Asthal.)
Baroness Anelay of St Johns (Spokespersons In the Lords, Home Affairs; Conservative)
My Lords, I hope that the House will excuse me if I first say how very much I am looking forward to hearing the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Ballyedmond.
I can give the Minister and the House my unequivocal support, and that of my party, for proper parliamentary scrutiny of Bills that bear within them matters of constitutional importance. We have always acknowledged that the Home Secretary inherited a difficult job from Mr Blunkett—a torrent of Home Office legislation and headlining Bills that the Government must have known they would never have time to take through both Houses if they set their minds on an early election this spring. The question therefore must be—why have the Government set their own Identity Cards Bill up to fail? The answer lies in Mr Blunkett. He gave the game away in interviews earlier this month when he made it clear that the Government's plan is to try to blame us on these Benches for their failure to give parliamentary time to the Bill. My Lords, that will not wash.
The Select Committee on the Constitution pointed out in its fifth report:
"The constitutional significance of the Bill is that it adjusts the fundamental relationship between the individual and the State".
Such an important Bill deserves proper consideration in this House. Like the Minister, I give my commitment that I will listen most carefully and constructively to all the points that are put on all sides of the argument.
In the debates in another place, we set out five reasonable tests to determine whether the Bill is a proportionate and effective response to the Government's perceived need for ID cards. The Government failed to pass those five tests. They now have the opportunity to use the Committee stage in this House to persuade us that those five tests can be met. We will listen, but we know that so far the Government have failed properly to address the concerns that have come from all sides, including from those who would support the introduction of ID cards soon.
The Bill highlights the need for the Government to maintain a balance between the interests of the citizen and the role of the state. Of course it is the duty of the state to protect the lives of its citizens, but the duty to protect life must be balanced by the duty to protect our way of life. As I made clear in the debate on the Loyal Address, before 9/11 I would not have countenanced ID cards. After that, I accept that we must at least consider them. We should examine carefully any measures that might enhance the nation's security, while maintaining a proper degree of proportionality. ID cards, introduced properly and effectively, might help to do just that, so the Bill deserves detailed consideration. Despite the best efforts of my honourable and right honourable friends in another place, they were left in the position of having to skim through some 20 clauses—about half of the Bill—in the last Committee session, on matters that could not then be addressed on Report. We need to be allowed time to do better.
The noble Baroness has reminded us today that ID cards already exist to some extent in practice, as passports and driving licences, and for asylum seekers as application and registration cards. It is worth considering the introduction of a framework that encompasses them all, but it is vital that the framework should be more than a mere enabling Bill, which is the fundamental flaw of the Bill. The Minister said today that we cannot expect more, but I agree with the Constitution Committee which said:
"The common thread in our suggestions is that Parliament should not leave a scheme of such significance and complexity to the Secretary of State alone to develop, bring into operation and maintain".
In recent years, it has become both legally and technically possible to pass around government large quantities of data about British citizens. We know that. Those data, plus the national identity register, are of more importance as a threat to privacy than the card itself. The Minister made clear today that the card will play little effect in the system; we ourselves become the identity card. The debates in another place made that abundantly clear. An important part of the Bill must be to put statutory control on the use and deployment of existing data, yet time and again the Government have so far refused to improve the Bill to make it clear just how the system could operate fairly and effectively.
The Minister has referred to some of those issues today. The first is the matter of an upper and lower age limit. Clause 2 states that people over the age of 16 would be coerced into registering. As the Minister says, this is still a work in progress as far as the Government are concerned. Clause 2 gives an enabling power to extend or reduce that age range. In Committee in another place, the Minister, Mr Browne, said:
"No decisions have yet been made . . . We will work out the specifics of the issue appropriately in future".—[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee B, 18/1/05; col. 82.]
On another basic issue, of which addresses we will all be required to register, the Minister said:
"Much more work is required on the processes for issuing ID cards before we will be able to draft the regulations".—[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee B, 18/1/05; col. 73.]
"For most people who have lived at the same address for a reasonable period, the current address is all that will be needed".—[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee B, 18/1/05; col. 73.]
However, that is not what the Bill says. How will the Government discriminate between people, and between different groups of people, to determine who has to give more details? And for how long—for 10 years or for life? How will they decide what each of us has to do? The Government have simply tried to make the Bill too broad-brush. It is a framework, but by no means a clear one.
I turn now to the five tests that we have consistently put before the Government and required them to meet before they can reasonably expect Parliament to give consent for an enabling Bill of such constitutional importance. The first is clarity of purpose. The Government must not only make clear the specific purposes for which an ID card is required, but in particular they must make it clear which of those purposes are priorities; otherwise it will be difficult to assess them. Where no individual purpose is specified, it must be made clear that an ID card is not a requirement. One of the main objections to the 1940s wartime ID card was mission creep. At the beginning, the card had three distinct purposes; it ended up with 39.
In the debate leading up to the Bill and during the consultation process, the Government claimed that a national ID card is needed to allow access to benefits and services; to provide proof of age; for voter registration; crime reduction and immigration purposes; to tackle terrorism, money laundering, people trafficking and ID fraud; and to provide access to public services. It is important to know which of those is a priority, since different services and purposes demand different types of card and registration.
The second test is technology and its capabilities. The Minister has updated us a little on that today. The system must be robust from start to finish; from the card to the biometric reader through the communication system and into the central computer, database and software. It must be impossible for a virus to enter the system; if it did so it would cause mayhem. It could create and conceal multiple identities, thus corrupting the system's core purpose. So far, the Government have said that such matters are work in progress. The Minister has said so today, to a certain extent, but has begun to take us forward.
The fact is that biometric technology is fallible. Fingerprints and iris scans cannot always be easily taken, and technology can be fooled. It is vital to the progress of this project that the public and authorities should be clear about the technology's weaknesses as well as its strengths. We would need to examine in Committee the Government's assessment of the current state of technology and its likely future progress on these issues. In particular, after the Minister's speech today, we will need to examine the research to which she referred, which we are told will be published next month.
The third test is the question of whether the Government can run the system. We know that this would be the most ambitious technology project the country has ever seen. We also know that this Government have a less than perfect record in overseeing large-scale projects. That is not a party pre-position. I do not envy them in running some of the major technology projects modern society seems to expect. However, the most recent examples of failure include those of the Child Support Agency computer and the national fingerprint identification system. Both of those look like modest projects compared with the proposal to set up a national identity register of the complexity that is within the Bill.
The fourth test we considered was the cost-effectiveness of the scheme. The Minister has sought to reassure us today by saying that we will have to deal with some of those costs anyway, because of the difference in the way passports will be issued in future. We need to look at all the issues involved in costing. The introduction of the Bill saw the cost of the ID card scheme almost double overnight, from £3 billion to £5.5 billion. Conventional wisdom now puts the overall cost somewhere between £10 billion and £20 billion, by the time one takes into account all the costs associated with a national identity register and the need to have machine readers available to police, hospitals and others who may be required to check identity and create an audit trail of our lives. We will need to examine in Committee how the Government intend to control the cost, and whether the money would be better spent on trying to stop illegal immigration, terrorism and benefit fraud by other means.
The final issue is that of civil liberties. We must examine the real concerns about these. The scheme proposed in the Bill will involve the establishment of the national identity register, the use of the latest technology and the gathering of information on millions of people. That register will be the hub that allows the collation of, and access to, vast amounts of data on individuals from many government databases. Parliament must oversee the nature of the data used on the cards, and must control who has access to them.
In an ideal world, of course, we would not need ID cards, but we recognise that it is right to examine now whether they have become necessary. It is also right, however, that we ensure that any proposals are carefully scrutinised so we can achieve the aims of the Bill at minimum cost, and with the minimum incursion on people's liberties.
As the debate progressed in another place, it became increasingly apparent that many more organisations than we had at first thought will have access to this new database. That means that the scope for unauthorised access could be unmanageable. There is even the possibility that the data must be shared with other countries—a topical example would be Ireland—because of the common travel area.
Echoing the view of the Constitution Committee, Liberty's briefing states:
"The bill is of constitutional importance and will permanently alter the relationship between the individual and the state".
I do not say that no national identification scheme could ever theoretically be justified. I do say, however, that any project with huge financial and constitutional implications needs to be justified clearly as a proportionate and effective response to social need. So far, the Government have not justified the method they have adopted in this skeletal enabling Bill. We will need to hold them to account in the remaining stages of the Bill, and I will do so in a constructive and open manner. If the Government are serious about the Bill, they will give this House that opportunity.
Lord Dholakia (Deputy Leader, House of Lords; Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, I add my thanks to the Minister for introducing this Bill in your Lordships' House. I also ask her to convey our thanks to the Minister of State, Des Browne, for briefing colleagues earlier in the day.
We do not have the five tests demanded by the Opposition. To me, they are as irrelevant as those introduced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer with regard to monetary union. It is a shame that we will not have time on our side to tease out many of the issues raised by the Minister. The reasons are simple. We are in an almost unreal situation. On the one hand, there is anticipation of a general election, and on the other, Bills are being pushed through your Lordships' House that are unlikely to end up on the statute book for some time to come.
I do not believe that scrutiny and revision, which require the Committee and Report stages of the Identity Cards Bill, will be reached—so why this haste? The Government, of course, have their own reasons, which have nothing to do with the Bill being enacted. I suspect this may be another matter on the Government's agenda of "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime".
Whatever the reasons, it is right that I should set out my party's position on this Bill. We do not believe that ID cards will work with regard to tackling terrorism—although that is what David Blunkett told us in the first instance—nor that they will help to tackle benefit or health fraud. It would be helpful to have some recent data to establish the Government's case on these points.
ID cards have serious cost implications. The system is flawed, and has civil liberty implications, as pointed out by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay.
I shall start with some of the possible assumptions made by the Government in the consultative document on Entitlement Cards and Identity Fraud. We are told that a card scheme could be a powerful weapon in combating illegal immigration. If that is the case, why do we not sort out the chaotic immigration procedure that lets in illegal immigrants? If we had proper, managed migration, with a system of admission of those economic migrants whose services we require, and a proper method of dealing with those who are genuinely being persecuted and are seeking refuge, ID cards would become less relevant.
ID cards cannot be forced upon people who enter this country. They are designed for those who are lawfully resident here. How ID cards could stop illegal entrants baffles the imagination. We have said we would support a system of immigration based on the United Kingdom's needs. We will support a system designed to help refugees and deal effectively with those who enter the country unlawfully. ID cards would do no such thing. To set up this aspect of policy as an end to all illegal immigration is just not true. It will not work. It may placate tabloid newspapers, but its impact would be negligible.
It is obvious that ID cards are unlikely to be introduced in Britain straight away. The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Patricia Hewitt, has acknowledged that the process will take many years. If that is the case, why is it necessary to bring the Bill forward at the fag-end of this parliamentary term? It does not give us time to consider the framework carefully.
According to the Government, we will not have to carry ID cards. If that is the case, how will they be effective against terrorism? Even if they were made compulsory, would they stop terrorism? Of course we acknowledge the serious threat of terrorism, but in the majority of cases that have been identified, terrorists have not used false or multiple identities. Past evidence in the UK, the United States and other countries demonstrates that terrorists are capable of carrying out atrocities without changing their identities.
ID cards are of little relevance to those who are hell-bent on destroying themselves. We may know someone's identity, but that does not tell us what they are about to do. There is the classic case of Richard Reid, the so-called shoe bomber. Even if he had had an identity card, would it have given a clue about what he was going to do? Those who wish to destroy themselves do not care whether they have an identity document or not. That pattern is well established among suicide bombers.
The Government's argument is seriously flawed if they think that this is the way to stop terrorists or their activities. I do not dispute that an identity card would provide people who were lawfully resident in the UK with a means of confirming their identity to a high degree of assurance. The problem is that it stops neither terrorism nor illegal immigration. No country has found a foolproof system, and Great Britain is no exception.
The Government's other objective is to help people to gain entitlement to products and services provided by both public and private sectors, particularly those who may find it difficult to do so at present. We do not dispute that. There is benefit and health fraud, but I fail to see what that has to do with identity. A vast amount of health and benefit fraud that occurs in the United Kingdom would not stop through the availability of identity cards. Is it not the case that only 5 per cent of it involves individuals pretending to be someone whom they are not?
The cost implication of the introduction of ID cards is still a mystery. How much would it cost? What technology have we in mind? This is a major national investment that requires intense scrutiny. It has to be evaluated on the basis of other cards and identity documents that many people possess. I acknowledge that we are simply discussing the framework at this stage, but surely the Government have in mind the ultimate cost implication. I was delighted that Des Browne actually gave some figures in the briefing note that he supplied, but they are still not complete because of the large number of reading machines that will be required in all sorts of places, for which the cost would be considerable.
Last week, I met representatives of LaserCards, which I understand provides the green card technology to the US Government. In essence, three types of card have been identified. The first type securely stores information on the card itself that can be read offline. The second type requires a central database to be accessed, which is the system often used by banks. The third type is a hybrid of both systems. Will there have to be reading equipment in every post office, benefit office, hospital and doctor's practice? Who will operate the system? Who will be responsible for protection of readable data? Does the Data Protection Act apply? What guarantees are there that data will not be accessed for other purposes?
The Government have not had much luck with computerised services established in the area of criminal justice. We will need a lot of convincing that a foolproof system that will not break down is available. Even before the questions have been answered, we have a unique situation in Wales. Under devolved powers, the National Assembly for Wales can take its own decision whether to have ID cards in relation to health provision. It says that it will not ask for ID cards, so we have an example of the first unilateral declaration of independence coming from the Labour heartland.
Let me now come to the regulatory impact assessment. There is serious concern about complex procedures, and then there are cultural problems. We have seen the impact of stop and search on our black and ethnic minority communities. I appreciate the Minister's concern on the matter and her assurances, but she has not satisfied me that police will not ultimately have access to the relevant information if they suspect that a crime has been committed. The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants has produced research evidence from Europe that suggests that,
"black and ethnic minority . . . nationals could be disproportionately targeted on the basis of race for identity checks by police, immigration officials or other public service officials".
Then there is the risk of conflict with the European Convention on Human Rights and other international convention law.
The other issue identified by the regulatory impact assessment is that,
"only certain groups will be asked for proof of identity".
I suspect that, like the anti-terrorist legislation that caused so many problems for the Government, the provision is likely to be considered disproportionate in its use, discriminatory on foreign nationals, and adversarial in its impact on black and ethnic minority people here.
We are certainly entitled to know the cost implication of a fully operational ID card system. So far, it is difficult because the figures keep changing. Would the Government make public the Office of Government Commerce's Gateway review documents? There cannot be any commercial confidentiality about them. Should we not be entitled to information that is given to commercial companies? We want to know the true cost of a system when fully operational and the financial contribution of each citizen in the UK, together with the cost of a biometric readable passport that we are obliged to produce. It is then that we can argue about what alternatives to ID cards are available to us, such as more police, more intelligence officers and more spending on secure borders. There are better ways of spending that money.
The other point that I wish to address concerns the database, on which the Home Affairs Committee commented. It identified two issues—whether the Government have the capacity to run a system of ID cards, given their awful record on IT systems; and the implications for civil liberties, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. My noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury is upset that he is unable to participate in the debate, as he is speaking on the Charities Bill. He is chair of the advisory panel established by Liberty to assist with a major project on privacy and identity. That report will be available when the Bill comes to the House again before long, as I suspect that it will.
We have reached a stage where successive legislation has eroded the delicate relationship between the individual and the state, as rightly pointed out in a number of government reports. That is also a conclusion reached by the Select Committee on the Constitution. There is so much information available on citizens of this country—their shopping habits, the products they buy, and their financial standing—which is a by-product of the credit card system. Then there is the passport, a document that sets out your citizenship and the rights that go with it. There is an insatiable appetite on the part of the Government to continue to obtain more information under the guise of tackling fraud, terrorism and illegal immigration.
This morning, I read the report of the London School of Economics on the identity project. It is an assessment of the Bill and its implications, and it concluded:
"All identity systems carry consequential dangers as well as potential benefits. Depending on the models used, identity systems may create a range of new and unforeseen problems. These include the failure of systems, unforeseen financial costs, increased security threats and unacceptable imposition on citizens. The success of a national identity system depends on a sensitive, cautious and co-operative approach involving all key stakeholder groups including an independent and rolling risk of assessment and a regular review of management practices. We are not confident that these conditions have been satisfied in the development of the Identity Cards Bill. The risk of failure in the current proposals is therefore magnified to the point where the scheme should be regarded as a potential danger to the public interest and to the legal rights of individuals".
There must be a time when we should call a halt. That time is now. If the purpose of this Second Reading is simply to identify for political parties those who are against this legislation, let it be so. In the coming weeks we shall continue to proclaim that we are against the Bill. I now look forward to listening to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Ballyedmond.
Lord Ballyedmond (Crossbench)
My Lords, I confess that I feel like a blushing maiden this evening, on the occasion of my first speech to your Lordships' House.
Identity cards are not new to society. They have been in use for a very long time in many countries which we consider to be normal, democratic societies. With the evolution of democracy, free society now has the conundrum of how to balance the rights and freedoms to be enjoyed by the individuals on the one hand with the collective benefits of those who comprise the state on the other. There are those who will say we are at war with terrorists and criminals. Whatever the position, we must be prepared to render impotent any attack on our democratic way of life.
We were able to fight and win past wars with the intelligent use of might and manpower. This alone is no longer a viable means to counter the modus operandi of the subverters, which has experienced a paradigm shift, or the increased influence of political and religious fanaticism, where fear of death is removed. The suicidal protagonist believes himself glorified by his sacrifice. Organised crime, likewise, has at its service today's most sophisticated technology and the means of ready communication and movement. The political focus in modern-day Europe has shifted to the rights of the individual to such an extent that those rights in many cases must be accommodated by an unwilling state. This is evidenced by the busy schedule of the European Court of Human Rights.
This development of the focus on the individual and his rights can often cause antagonism as a grant of a right to one may be a deprivation of another. This inherent conflict is at the basis of the major issue which will confront us in the consideration of this Bill. Here we potentially open the door to allow curtailment of a freedom in the hope of preventing others from removing our greater freedom. Here we must set the scales and find the balance. It will not be easy.
It would be wise at the outset to ensure that the appropriate safeguards, independent of the administration and operation of the powers granted, be set in place so that any abuse will be detected and dealt with, and that the controls which Parliament invests in this Bill are ensured for us all. If we have the protection that our details are not available to parties other than the proper agents of the government of a democracy in the implementation of laws which we support, and our details are utilised only for the stated purposes, what have we to fear? For my part, I am prepared to accept some curtailment of this freedom to help protect our general liberty.
We must examine the facts as they are today. The dangerous forces which can confront us now are not tangible. They are highly organised, globalised and well managed. They generally rely on the international, as well as the national, network for support. In a world in which freedom of movement has evolved and has been optimistically accepted as the basis for the structure of our future society, these forces effectively utilise the four ingredients necessary for terrorism and for crime. These are: motivation, stealth, money, and a sympathetic community. I hope that the presently proposed legislation will help to identify those involved and the places where the terrorists and criminals derive their recruitment, their supplies and their shelter.
There is also, of course, the threat of single terrorists or criminals, who are very difficult to detect. They can operate on a vast scale, utilising the advanced scientific and technological developments available. Weapons of mass destruction can be deployed with the minimum use of manpower. I do not think I am being unrealistic or alarmist in stating this. It is crucial that we do not allow the emotive and exciting subject of individual rights to obfuscate our minds when considering the issue of national and indeed collective international security. We must keep these potentially antagonistic elements in context in this debate.
I am pleased to observe this Government's increasing attention to the detection and prevention of national and international money laundering. This Bill should also help to reduce the high level of crime that we have from credit card fraud, health and benefits fraud, and the black economy. If this can be controlled, the enormous amount of money that is presently being defrauded and being spent on the detection and prosecution of such fraud will be saved, and will become available for improvements for us all.
The present proposal by the Government to implement the use of identity cards has been met with a mixed reaction. It seems that many people are suggesting what should not be done, rather than asking what should be done. We have our security services to thank for the fact that we are not debating this issue in the wake of an attack in the style of September 11. Indeed this is one of the benefits with which an effective security policy provides us. I do not need to remind your Lordships of the many enemies who await an opportunity to strike. I believe the most relevant element of global terrorism is stealth, and ask everyone to bear this in mind when debating this topic. It was once said that the best trick that the Devil ever played was convincing mankind that he did not exist. I am not alone in my belief that the enemy exists, and feel that, because we have not experienced an attack such as 9/11 on our own soil, we may be in danger of losing sight of the terrible impact which such an attack would have. I welcome the optimism of those who feel that this risk is not real, but I do so cautiously.
Recent intelligence suggests that terrorists and criminals are often in co-operation and, on occasion, inextricably linked. Any reasonable and proportionate means which stifle these activities must be supported, so it is to the implementation of such a system that I now turn. The proposed Identity Cards Bill includes provision for maintaining the accuracy of a national identity register and also the provision of information from that register for verification purposes. At this time I see this as a comparatively small intrusion on our privacy, a small price to pay for maintaining our way of life and our freedom. The cost of its implementation, if that implementation is performed correctly, is I believe, entirely justifiable.
One can scarcely sufficiently emphasise the wide implications of this Bill. I have focused thus far on terrorism and crime, but of course the better control of the hugely complex issues of immigration and asylum is also to be gained. Let us not forget that the European Union is expanding, as is its pool of people who will be legally entitled to free movement within our borders.
The balance of which I spoke earlier must be set and maintained. The Bill, when enacted, must not be capable of being used to broaden the amount of information recorded as that would be stepping towards a certain nanny state, which would be well beyond the present purpose of the Bill.
If the Bill, with the appropriate modifications and safeguards, is implemented as intended, it should go some way to making terrorism and crime, as we presently know them, part of our history rather than our destiny. I thank noble Lords for their attention.
Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen (Labour)
My Lords, it gives me tremendous pleasure to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ballyedmond, on his informative and thought-provoking maiden speech. The noble Lord comes to this House with an impressive history of service to his community. In addition to being chair of Norbrook Laboratories and Norbrook Holdings, he is a member of the Senate of Ireland, a member of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation and a member of the British-Irish Inter-parliamentary Body. That background has well equipped him for appointment to this House. The noble Lord's knowledge of his subject was very evident in his speech, and I am sure that all noble Lords who heard it will join me in looking forward to future debates in which he takes part.
I have found that the Identity Cards Bill has created a great deal of interest and a larger postbag than usual. It is an enabling Bill and, as such, it does not spell out arrangements in detail for issuing and using identity cards. However, it does provide the framework for later secondary legislation. It gives legal authority for expenditure on setting up the identity cards scheme and the suggested fees surrounding it. Most importantly, it spells out the safeguards on the information to be used. I personally welcome the proposed legislation.
We live in a world which is rapidly changing. People are moving from country to country in a way that could not possibly have been envisaged even a generation ago, and two generations ago it would have been totally unthinkable. I well remember my 89 year-old grandmother, who lived in a pretty isolated village in the heart of the Lincolnshire wolds, being awestruck when she knew I was working in London. She visited London once in her life to see the Crystal Palace exhibition, and of course she never dreamed of travelling abroad. Her simple world has changed forever.
In 2003, more than 90 million people came through UK ports, including 15 million European economic area nationals and 12 million foreign nationals. Such freedom of movement is both advantageous and beneficial but, as others have explained, it brings with it threats from terrorists and other organised criminals together with identity theft, which costs the economy more than £1 billion per year.
We need identity cards as part of a major effort to ensure that we know who should and who should not be able to remain legally in this country. Of course, ID cards are not a panacea for everything to do with combating terrorism, organised crime or identity theft. No one believes that. But they are a major cog in the wheels of prevention.
Biometrics may be a new concept but ID cards are not. The information that they will provide is already kept on databases of all kinds of organisations. Most of the information is not highly sensitive; it will be core information: name, date of birth, address, nationality and so on. I believe that the scheme will provide people with a simple and convenient method of proving who they are and help to sort out any queries when that is in the public interest.
We already provide a great deal of information about ourselves to various organisations. Many of us carry what are ostensibly ID cards, and have done for years. Perhaps I can illustrate this with a short story. It is the story of a Liverpool boy, who became a 15 year-old entrant to the Royal Navy. When he joined, he was given a pay book upon which was his photograph, his name, his personal identifying number and his personal medical facts. Unlike the proposed ID cards, it was compulsory for him to carry it at all times when ashore. It was called a "pay book" but it was, in effect, an ID card, and indeed was later changed by the Navy to a small ID card.
The boy became a man and, on leaving the Navy, he joined the Prison Service. There, he was issued with a warrant card, which he had to carry while on duty. In later years, this also contained his photograph to make identity absolutely accurate. Now, in retirement, he has been issued with a freedom pass for public transport. The pass contains his photograph and, to gain it, he had to prove his age, address and whether or not he had a disability. He needs to carry it whenever he wants to travel on public transport. In other words, he had to provide identification and he has to carry the ID card with him when travelling. I could go on with the illustrations but time does not permit that.
Some noble Lords will know that I am the president of the Yeadon Air Training Corps. The cadets are a splendid group of young men and women of whom the country can be as proud as I am. Twice each year, a group of cadets visits the House of Lords and I take the opportunity to seek their views on forthcoming legislation. When a group visited last November, I asked their views on identity cards. I explained about the enabling legislation and the proposals in the Bill. My questions were greeted with puzzlement. Then one young man said, "As cadets, my Lady, we already carry ID cards", and they duly produced them. His friend said, "I can't see any reason to object to having ID cards, unless of course you've done something wrong".
So, to me, the concept of an ID card is welcome, and, as my noble friend Lady Scotland of Asthal explained, it will bring us into line with other EU countries. French and Portuguese friends tell me that they cannot see what all the fuss is about. There will of course need to be debates about what information ID cards will contain and what safeguards will be needed to guard, so far as possible, against fraud. I am confident that our debates will be as thorough as they always are in your Lordships' House.
I now turn to some of the briefings that I have received on the Bill from different organisations. I particularly welcome those from both sides of industry. The TUC has raised questions about Clause 31, which covers tampering with the national identity register. I know that my noble friend Lord Lea of Crondall is to expand on these concerns in his speech today. Of course, those of us on this side of the House who worked in and for the trade union movement will recognise those concerns and will listen carefully to the responses of my noble friend the Minister.
The CBI has welcomed the objectives of the Bill. It believes that they will improve security and go some way to tackling identity theft. It does, however, want information on ID cards to be kept to a minimum. It emphasises the need for accuracy and believes that the national identity scheme commissioner should report to Parliament rather than to the Secretary of State. I would welcome the Minister's comments on those points also.
One briefing about which I am most suspicious is that from the "NO 2 ID" campaign, whose address is a Post Office box number in Marylebone High Street. Rarely have I received such objectionable and misleading information. It is a great pity that this group of individuals has taken time to print and circulate such information, hiding behind a PO box number. The only named person is a "national co-ordinator", although what and who he is co-ordinating is not clear. I find this worrying piece of literature far more sinister than the proposals to which the authors object.
On the other side of the coin, I read with interest the briefing from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants. The JCWI is a respected national organisation with which I have worked over many years. Its main concerns are the risk of creating a general culture of suspicion towards black and ethnic minority communities; and disproportionate targeting of them for identity checks by police, immigration officials or other public service officials. Apparently, research has been carried out into what happens in EU countries, which shows that that could be the case.
The JCWI also believes that there should be a stronger human rights analysis of the Identity Cards Bill, together with a substantial race equality impact assessment before it becomes law. Those are legitimate issues to raise and I would be pleased to hear my noble friend's response.
Finally, I genuinely believe that the legislation does far more to safeguard than to threaten our civil liberties. Following the deliberations in which we always engage in this House, I also believe that it will leave us in better shape than when it arrived.
The Earl of Northesk (Conservative)
My Lords, I begin by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Ballyedmond, on his informed contribution. I also thank the Minister for the customary grace and eloquence of her introduction. It is therefore with a little regret that I have to say that that is about as far as my generosity is likely to go. As many of your Lordships will be aware, I have deep-seated reservations about the Bill in terms of both principle and practicality.
Indeed, if pressed, these are matters about which I could speak at tedious length. That said, I shall try to limit my remarks to two or three central themes. Before doing so, I should, for avoidance of doubt, place my aversion towards the Bill in context. I do not in any way underestimate the potential threat from terrorism. Nor do I resile from the Government's—indeed, Parliament's—obligation to protect the nation's security.
Accordingly, I can accept that the Bill's key objectives are valid. Combating terrorism, cutting crime and reducing fraud and illegal working are legitimate tasks for any responsible government. Moreover, I recognise that most, if not all, of us are accustomed to carrying various forms of identity. To that extent the Government might be tempted to argue that society is fully engaged with an underlying concept of the scheme: the use of a piece of plastic as proof of our identity.
But, as I shall seek to demonstrate, none of that guarantees that the Bill's provisions are the right way forward. Where to begin? The first essential point to be grasped is that, notwithstanding its short title, this is categorically not a Bill about identity cards. Here we are not helped in that comments from Ministers have been muddled and confused. Indeed, it is almost as though Ministers do not fully understand the character and import of the text of their own Bill.
With due apology to her, I have to add that the Minister's introduction has, at least in part, added to my sense of opacity, not least because of her exposition of the international dimension of biometric passports and her conflation of the centralised database under the umbrella of the ID cards scheme.
"I must [also] make it clear that we have never proposed and do not propose a scheme under which it would be compulsory to carry a card".—[Hansard, Commons, 20/12/04; col. 1949.]
And yet, a few minutes later, he commented:
"The whole point is that, ultimately, the scheme will be effectively compulsory".—[Official Report, Commons, 20/12/04; col.1951.]
"Nobody should vote for the ID card scheme unless they understand that it is compulsory... Let us be under no illusion that the Government intend to bring in a compulsory ID scheme; there is no stealth, no dishonesty and no masking of such a proposal".—[Official Report, Commons, Standing Committee B, 20/1/05; col.123.]
And yet, a few days later, he observed:
"I said on Second Reading and I have already said in Committee that we do not intend to require anybody to carry a card at all times".
In summary therefore, the Government's position is that come what may the scheme—registering for and having a card—will be compulsory but carrying one will not. For many the internal logic of this is farcical. The Home Secretary has justified the position by pointing out that,
"It is the secure record of identity that is important, not the card itself".—[Hansard, Commons, 20/12/04; col. 1954.]
It may be scant consolation to the Minister, but I do at least understand the point, particularly given the inclusion within the scheme of biometrics. But the inescapable reality is that the Bill is far less about the introduction of identity cards—they are an accidental by-product—than about the establishment of a centralised and over-arching database containing extensive details about every individual in the land.
Even a cursory glance at the Bill reveals that, out of a total of 45 clauses and two schedules, only five clauses are concerned directly with the cards. The crucial point is that, as identified by the Constitution Committee, it should be called the National Identity Registration and Database Bill. It does not take a genius to work out that this is an entirely different proposition from an ID cards Bill.
The cosy assumption that the scheme will have widespread public acceptance because of the card culture of the modern age falls by the wayside. Rather, were it more widely known that we are in fact dealing with an extensive—and potentially very intrusive—registration system rooted in IT, public endorsement for the scheme would be likely to be rather more muted than the Government maintain.
My second point flows naturally from this. As is well known a host of commentators and organisations—Liberty, the Information Commissioner, the Constitution Committee, et al—have made reference to the way in which the Government's proposals will undermine civil liberties. As the Home Affairs Select Committee investigating the draft Bill put it—I choose it out of any number of commentators:
"An identity card scheme of the sort and on the scale proposed by the Government would undoubtedly represent a significant change in the relationship between the state and the individual in this country".
The JCHR substantiates this anxiety in its fifth report of the current session, saying that:
"The provisions of the Bill raise a number of serious questions of human rights compatibility".
All of this should represent a stark warning. At the very least one could have anticipated that the Government might accept that there are fundamental concerns here that need to be addressed. But in response, the Home Secretary states baldly:
"In my opinion, it is entirely false to claim that ID cards will erode our civil liberties".—[Hansard, Commons, 20/12/04; col. 1948.]
adding, in his written response to the JCHR:
"I do not consider that the principle of a compulsory national registration and identity cards scheme can possibly be in breach of our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)".
In turn the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration argues that:
"The whole debate has been plagued by people making grand assertions about liberty, but then walking away from them and not staying around to justify and explain what they meant".—[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee B, 18/1/05; col.48.]
I have no difficulty in responding to the Minister's challenge. Taken to its logical conclusion, the scheme represents the establishment of an executive system of control of the citizen, particularly in respect of the proposed audit trail.
As the Constitution Committee has pointed out, it transfers "ownership" of our identities from our own hands into those of the state. To add insult to injury, some would say, it advances the proposition that we should have to pay for that dubious privilege. With the best will in the world, I cannot conceive how that can be considered as anything other than,
"a significant change in the relationship between the state and the individual".
Evidently the Government challenge this proposition. But what matters is that Ministers, in justifying the Bill and the scheme to which it gives the spark of life, are under an obligation to make the case for why they believe this does not offend civil liberties. It is simply not good enough for them, as it were, to stamp their feet and say that they are the fountainhead of all wisdom on the matter and that therefore any critics are inescapably misguided.
As Liberty has put it,
"It is a peculiarity of the identity card debate that those who express concerns have been required to justify their opposition rather than requiring the Government to justify their introduction".
These matters are far too important—arguably they are on a par with the furore we have recently experienced over the Prevention of Terrorism Act—for their substance to be treated dismissively as an aberration emanating from woolly-minded liberals. Indeed, there is a subsidiary point here, admirably highlighted by the JCHR at paragraph 8 of its report. It states:
"It must be shown that they"—
that is to say, the interferences with Article 8 rights—
"interfere with privacy rights to the minimum degree necessary, and that their aim could not be achieved by less intrusive means".
I do not want to get bogged down with the efficacy or fitness of the Section 19 declaration made by the Minister, but it seems to me that it remains the case that this absolute requirement has yet to be satisfied.
This leads to my third point. As I have already said, I have no hesitation in accepting that the underlying objectives of the Bill are legitimate tasks for any responsible government. But a key question remains: to what extent will the scheme usefully address these objectives? And—to borrow the phraseology of the JCHR—to what extent could they,
"be achieved by less intrusive means"?
Here too the Government's position is hopelessly muddled and confused. For example, as the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration, put it:
"Nobody suggests that identity cards are a panacea for or a solution to terrorism. However, they will make a significant contribution".—[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee B, 18/1/05; col. 53.]
The noble Baroness, Lady Gibson, said something similar in her speech.
At least it is clear that the Government accept that ID cards are not a silver bullet. But, in reality, the faith and trust of Ministers—or of the Home Office more generally—in the scheme are decidedly lukewarm and insecure. Reports of disagreements in Cabinet over the issue suggest that Government support lacks conviction and is rather less robust than would be appropriate for such a far-reaching measure. This is underscored by a comment from the Identity Cards Programme Team in the Home Office that:
"The scheme is not being designed to be the primary measure to tackle these problems".
The fact that the key objectives that the Government trot out with such regularity as the Bill's major justification are not being factored in to the design process is a tacit admission that the contribution that the scheme will make to tackle these problems is, at best, marginal. Moreover it implies that dealing with them could be achieved by other more practical and proportionate means.
Of course, this woolly approach to the IT architecture of the scheme reflects another flaw within the proposal. As my noble friend Lady Anelay inferred, its putative key objectives are multiple and divergent. They are not necessarily mutually exclusive but, so far as their resolution via IT is concerned, they compete and pull in contrary directions. For example, it is inevitable that the use of an ID card scheme to satisfy the objective of combating terrorism will require distinct IT structures from those required for, say, enhancing public service delivery. In effect, the envisaged purposes of the scheme, because they are disparate, vague and unfocused, anticipate the development of technological solutions that will inevitably end up being equally vague and unfocused. This is a classic scenario—we may already be experiencing something similar with the NHS national plan for IT— where costs are almost bound to explode uncontrollably. Bluntly, the business case for the scheme has yet to be made in any rational or coherent way.
Against this background, it is wholly unsurprising that no less a personage than the Prime Minister, albeit in another, more oppositional, life, was emboldened to say:
"Instead of wasting hundreds of millions of pounds on compulsory ID cards . . . let the money provide thousands of extra police officers on the beat in local communities".
Clearly, he once understood that there might be a more proportionate and cost-effective way of contributing to the identified key objectives. There is some irony in the fact that, presumably because of the heightened security situation as a result of 9/11, he has entirely abandoned that rational and sensible point of view as a means to inform the structure of the Bill.
I could go on. I have barely scratched the surface of the flaws and infelicities of the Bill. But I leave the last word to the excellent report from the London School of Economics that was presented to your Lordships this morning:
"There was an overwhelming view expressed by stakeholders involved in this Report that the proposals are too complex, technically unsafe, overly prescriptive and lack a foundation of public trust and confidence".
I could not agree more. However elegantly the Minister argues her case, and whatever the future of the Bill, the fact remains that, so far as I am concerned, it is irretrievably muddled and confused. Clearly, whether in this Parliament or the next, this House and, indeed, the Government, have a great deal of work to do to make some sort of sense of it, if that is possible.
The Earl of Erroll (Crossbench)
My Lords, I compliment the Minister on her patience and courtesy in handling several interruptions in her opening speech by Peers who left the Chamber shortly afterwards. I do not think that is the way to behave.
I am speaking in this debate because I hope that the Bill will undergo a deep and philosophical rethink before it reappears after any election. I shall split my remarks into four different areas. The first is why we should have ID cards; the second is why we should have a central register and a possible alternative solution to it that might be more acceptable; the third area is problems that might arise about it; and the fourth area is the protection of the individual.
What have ID cards? We already have a plethora of ID cards—I am wearing one right now—and they will not go away because they are needed for different purposes. We will keep our parliamentary ID cards, even if new ID cards appear, as they are instantly recognisable to our security staff and a national ID card would not contain all one's permissions and security access.
What are the purposes for which individuals and commerce need ID cards? We need to think about that first. The first purpose is as a passport, for border control, and for trying to track a person and find out if he is a criminal or a terrorist and whether he has a record. The second purpose is for financial ID when one does not need to know who a person is. A person can be checked through a credit-checking agency to find out whether he is credit-worthy and whether one would be willing to do business with him. It is not necessary to know where the person lives or whether he has several different IDs. For example, I might want to present myself as the Earl of Erroll for certain purposes, because I think that it could give me an advantage. For other purposes, I may well want to be Mr Erroll because I think I shall get a better bargain. Why should I have to reveal both identities?
The third reason for ID cards, which is often cited, is for health purposes when one needs to know about someone's allergies or diseases but not necessarily what the person is called. In fact, if a Minister was scraped off the street and it was discovered that he had a particularly nasty notifiable disease, it might be better if his identity was not known. What needs to be known is whether a person is allergic to penicillin.
The fourth reason is for authorisation, for security access—such as to this building—and to receive benefits. For benefits, a card would probably be issued by the local authority, because it administers those matters. The fifth reason is for electronic ID, to prove, using public key encryption or certificates, who you are over an electronic medium such as the Internet. There is no suggestion that this ID card will do that, although something could be bolted on later. There are other ways of doing that.
There is one thing that I forgot to say about health, which is that the NHS is about to issue two ID cards. One is the "spine card" which will state whether a person is entitled to NHS medical services. It may or may not be linked to medical records. The other is the E111, which one will use in Europe. So why do we need a national ID card for that?
My second point is about a central register. It will track a person's interactions with it over his lifetime. In fact, anything that is on an individual's register as a child will probably be rolled forward on the central register when he reaches 16. Central government will have a track of when an individual has had to prove his identity to all sorts of different bodies—some government, some otherwise. I thought that after five years most crimes are expunged from a person's record to give him a fresh start. I am not sure that that will be so in this case.
A figure of 80 per cent popularity for ID cards is quoted. Someone went out and did a market survey. But that figure depends on the question. If it were, "Would you be happy for a government agency to keep a central register of all inquiries made about your identity throughout your life and of who made them?" the answer might be very different. Most people think that the ID card is nothing to do with a central register. They see it as "flash and go", which I shall speak about in a moment.
To get round the problem of proving identity, there is no need for a central register. There are two systems: the hierarchical central control ID system, which central government like because they are trying to control the actions of the individual; and what is known as a federated ID system, which has a biometric on a card with your identity, and which can be verified locally. When it is put into a machine, it can communicate with government and civilian databases on whatever it is that you are trying to do, such as proving what money is in your bank for receiving benefit. You have control over your ID in that case. When you take the card away, central government no longer know anything about you, except that benefits or whatever, have been authorised.
That federated ID leaves control with the individual not the state. It is hugely different and is very much how local authorities are handling ID issues.
When we consider the Government's reasons for ID cards, they all seem to be very noble aims, such as national security. But it is good intelligence that catches terrorists, not trying to track every person around the place. Most terrorists operate most of the time under perfectly valid IDs. Another reason is the prevention and detection of crime. The problem, as the police have often said, is catching criminals with enough evidence, not finding out who they are once they are caught. Everyone under 16 is excluded, but a huge amount of crime is perpetrated by them, so why are they not being included in identity card schemes?
Enforcement of immigration controls has been given as a reason for identity cards. They will not be much good as all immigrants get a different card. They get different papers when they come, which will not be instantly recognised by everyone else. How do you know that a card which someone in the first three months, or perhaps longer, is using will not cause problems in the system? People will think that because the immigrant does not have a UK ID card, he is not entitled to be here. He may be perfectly entitled to be here, especially during that initial three months. How will we know about the plethora of cards that will be out there?
That applies, too, to the enforcements on prohibitions on unauthorised working or employment. The UK card does not tell us that—in fact, it could be misleading. There will be others under work permits using their own perfectly officially recognised ID, which, as the Minister said, they will be keeping. They may also have a work permit entitling them to work here. People may be here on short-term contracts, or for a variety of reasons. Just the fact of a UK ID card may or may not permit them to work. If they are valid for three months, for example, there may be students who are not necessarily entitled to work, except in limited circumstances. I do not know the rules; they would need to be checked. As a small employer, I would have to go through all that stuff to check it out.
Efficient and effective provision of public services is another reason. Local authorities deliver most of the public services and they are introducing their own management schemes. They do not need a central ID card to do that. If they were able to use the card put out by central government, it would save them huge amounts and would be useful, but they have been told that they are specifically prohibited from riding on the back of the silicon by putting their own applications on it. I do not know why that is. It could be done securely technologically. Benefits fraud tends to be misrepresentation of personal circumstances, not duplicate identity. People will have to produce a national ID card, a benefits card, and so on. They will have purse-loads of cards; there will be no reduction at all.
There will be problems. First, 13 biometrics will be recorded, comprising 10 fingerprints, two irises and a face, which will not all necessarily check out. In a local bank that has a reader, for example, what will happen if seven of the 13 biometrics match and six do not, or six match and seven do not? What about false positives and false negatives? We need to consider people's credibility and how to handle such situations. Such problems will happen on the front line on the day.
Certain ethnic and labour groups have certain characteristics. For example, I know that someone who will be speaking later has fingerprints that are difficult to read. Mine probably are as well because I work outside round the farm and the garden from time to time. Certainly the fingerprints of builders and farmers are difficult to read. There are problems reading the fingerprints of Asian community members, which is why China dropped that test. I am told that the dark brown eyes of people of African origin cause difficulties in producing unique scans and photographs. There are therefore challenges as to whether the system will work.
There will be problems with the technology. To verify locally, you will need to connect to the register and get the information back in time. As most of the transactions will not connect to the register there is a problem of flash and go, as I call it. You flash the card at someone who looks at the face and says, "Great, that's fine". You do not need a central register for that, so it would be possible to forge the card for all those transactions. I need only a blank card with a chip in it. I can forge the rest of the card and it will pass muster. Unless it is inserted into a biometric reading device, there is no way of knowing whether it is mine.
There are different ID cards for foreign nationals. They will be designated documents but how will we distinguish between them? The Government will not accept liability—it would be a first if they did. Presumably the FSA will not accept the card on its own, as there will be liability issues in certain high-value banking transactions. We shall go through the whole rigmarole.
The address issue is another problem. The FSA for some strange reason needs to know someone's address to open a bank account, which is why a lot of people do not have bank accounts. The central register will also want an address. If it requires the same level of proof as the FSA, not many ID cards will be issued to people who do not pay utility bills because someone else in the household does; people who do not claim benefits who have no transactions with government departments; and those who do not drive. They cannot prove where they live, so they will not get ID cards. What can be done about that?
What about changes of address? There will be a £1,000 fine for not registering a change of address. I believe that special arrangements will be made for students, but what if someone has no fixed abode? It makes nonsense of the whole system. Criminals will just disappear. If they happen to be found, they will pay the fine. They can afford to as I expect that their proceeds of crime will be a lot more than £1,000.
We will be vulnerable to over-zealous enforcement authorities. We hear a lot from Amnesty about the problems in France and other places. If we look back at what happened in the late 1850s to the end of the century when the British were allowed to move freely throughout Europe, and the continentals were not, there was always trouble. The continentals were desperate to get rid of their ID cards and did so, following the British model. Therefore, why on earth are we throwing that away?
What about leaks of information? Anyone believing that everything is safe nowadays and will not be leaked must be joking.
Finally, the register will become a prime terrorist target. Can you imagine the value of infiltrating someone on to it? There have to be mechanisms to switch ID. There are witness protection programmes, transgender reassignment, and agents in the field whose true identity must be concealed. Terrorists could have perfect access to the register.
I have talked for too long, but I should say on the issue of protection that we should not assume that J Edgar Hoover's reincarnation cannot come here. The report of the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution, HL paper 82, is brief, to the point and excellent. The Minister in another place made some robust statements about Parliament keeping a firm grip on our freedoms, but we cannot embed protections in perpetuity. We have no constitutional Supreme Court to overturn legislation unfortunately, despite the latest moves of the Government.
People say, "I've got nothing to hide", but have they never done anything that could be used against them once they get into public office? The register will track you through your life, from the new register of all schoolchildren through to your grave. My Jewish friends are very concerned because it could be linked through the address to the census, which carries ethnic and religious details. Remember what happened in Holland.
In conclusion, an ID card is basically an internal passport. It gives the authorities huge power to control our future movements and other things. It will irretrievably alter the balance between the citizen and the state. Millions have died defending our freedoms. Just because we are frightened of some terrorist attacks, we should not throw away those freedoms lightly.
Lord Giddens (Labour)
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ballyedmond, on his excellent maiden speech. He covered the ground with great precision and incisiveness. I like it because I agree with what he said. We face new risks today, and the terrorist risks that we face are in many respects quite different from those of the past. To face them we have to look again at some of the traditional notions of human liberties on which we have operated.
Quite often new Labour is said to be a government afflicted by creeping authoritarianism, especially by libertarian critics. Such critics say that the Government are waging, as it were, a war on our rights and individual freedoms to produce a more encroaching sphere for the state. To such critics, the Identity Cards Bill is simply another stage in that process. It is more of the same, along with control orders with curfews, limitations on rowdy neighbours and so on.
From my point of view that criticism is almost completely wrong, for two main reasons. First, liberty or freedom is not just a formal quality but it is also a substantive one. Our substantive freedoms consist of our ability to live the kind of lives we want to live and to pursue our aspirations. If I am frightened to go out of my house after dark, if I will not even cross a public park in daylight, if my life is made a misery by rowdy and aggressive neighbours, am I free? I am not. We should be concerned with substantive freedoms and they are certainly being extended. Sometimes we have to limit the formal freedoms of the few to expand the substantive freedoms of the many.
Secondly, libertarian critics of new Labour and of Bills such as this say much about rights and liberties, but they say very little about obligations or responsibilities. One cannot create an ethical society on the basis of rights alone. Rights always presume correlating obligations, and responsibilities from our citizens' rights and obligations tend to go together. Citizenship is a balance of rights and obligations. We have to ensure that we achieve the right balance.
The Bill should be set in the wider framework of citizenship with the balance of rights and obligations that that presumes. I believe that today we are seeing massive changes. The citizenship contract between the individual and the state is evolving and has to be transformed. We need a new contract between the individual citizen and the state.
That is because of two big sets of changes that affect all our lives. The first is that we live in a much more fluid and open society than any generation before us, especially in terms of the lifestyle options open to us. My noble friend Lady Gibson related an anecdote from her own family and I can easily offer a comparable one from my family. My parents went abroad only one day in their lives. It was a one-day trip to Ostend. Now, of course, we all take for granted the freedom that we have to travel and the forms of mobility that we enjoy. My statistics on the use of UK airports are a little different from hers. The latest data I have seen show that about 198 million people pass through UK airports every year.
There is a vast expansion in our substantive freedoms. It is a myth to suppose that we have an increasingly omnipotent state. The frightening perspectives suggested once upon a time by George Orwell and, from another perspective, by Franz Kafka have proved to be wrong. Today authoritarianism is more or less in retreat everywhere. We do not live in a society that is subject to the control of an omnipotent elite or a bureaucratic, rigid form of government. On the contrary, our society is much more mobile and changing; it is, as I have described elsewhere, a runaway world. Rather than a world subject to increasing and constant surveillance, we live in a world which, to some extent, escapes our control and we have to reassert that control to some degree.
The second set of changes concerns the penetration of information technology in our lives. Our lives are much more thoroughly penetrated by information technology than any generation before us. A noble Lord alluded to the role of credit cards in our lives. Credit cards lend themselves to fraud and to identity fraud and they can create problems for over-expansion of one's banking credit. By and large, credit cards open up a whole new world to us. The amazing thing about credit cards is that they are valid in almost all countries of the world. Our identity is part and parcel of a vastly expanding range of freedoms that they make possible.
Of course, the conjunction of the world of increasing globalisation and information technology poses threats that derive from those very changes. Allusion was made to money laundering. Some $2 trillion are estimated to be turned over every year in global markets through money laundering, illegal monetary transactions. Much of that money should, and could, be spent on the needs of citizens in the countries from which that money emanates. As regards the illegal arms trade, there are about 550 million small arms in the world at the moment. Only 3 per cent of such small arms are in the hands of states; all the others are in the hands of individuals and networks across the world. Increasingly the illegal arms trade involves high-tech weaponry, the latest tanks, the latest radar systems and, most disturbingly of all, nuclear materials and the know-how to create nuclear devices.
Against that backdrop, it seems to me to be a basic citizenship right that a person should be able to assert and validate his or her identity. Surely this is a key part of the backdrop to this debate. Libertarians will say, as noble Lords have said in this debate, that the Government should not build up a database on all of us. Libertarians will say, as has been said in the debate, that the Government should not intrude into our personal privacy, but the Government do so already and with results that are seen by most of us to be beneficent.
A good example is passports. A passport gives us identity; a passport makes it possible for us to travel across the world. If we lose our passport, or get into trouble in another country, we quite rightly expect the state or the Government to bail us out. If one does not have a passport, if one does not have citizenship, one of the worst situations in which one can find oneself is to be a stateless person.
Therefore, I believe that the basic provisions of the Bill are right and proper. It is correct to say that the provisions will allow us to combat crime, especially new forms of crime and new forms of terrorism as well as new forms of identity fraud, more effectively than we have been able to do before. It is right to say that identity cards, in the first instance—although there may be a built-in compulsory element—will largely be voluntary and that there must be some form of parliamentary and national debate on the issue.
However, I conclude by saying that one must also have some reservations. Until recently I was the director of the London School of Economics, which has been mentioned twice in the debate already. When I was the head of the LSE I used to know everything—or so I thought—about what was going on in the institution. Now I am a little adjunct professor, a little pimple on the side of this highly deserving but large-scale organisation, and I know nothing of what is going on. I found out about the LSE report on the identity cards debate only about two hours ago. Its name is a bit like that of a thriller: The Identity Project. However, it is a sober and detailed assessment of both the general backdrop to the ID cards debate and this Bill. It generally endorses the principle that ID cards will help the Government in their aims of combating terrorism, crime and identity fraud. It makes a large number of critical observations, however, on the scope of the technology, which it says is larger than has ever been attempted before, and on cost and other factors.
No doubt the Government will and—even though I speak as an ex-director of the LSE—should seek to rebut these criticisms. The report is, however, very important and I hope that everyone interested in this debate, inside and outside the Chamber, will give it the attention it deserves.
Lord Lucas (Conservative)
My Lords, I could not believe for a moment, when I started listening to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, that I was going to end up agreeing with what he said. Yet I do so absolutely. It is a very thorough, well researched and well thought out report from the LSE. I very much hope that it has a serious effect on the Government's thinking.
I am one of the 80 per cent who would like to have a national identity card, but I want a card which is useful to me. I want something that brings me benefits, which works well for me, not just in the airy-fairy world of thinking that maybe it will stop a terrorist killing me—which is a bit remote and, as I will come on to, I have my doubts about anyway—but in terms of the ordinary benefits of not having a wallet full of plastic and being able to assert my identity when I wish to do so, as the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, said. It is a thoroughly useful concept. It needs to be one that works, however, and it needs to work practically, efficiently and cost-effectively and must not take too much of my liberty away.
I do not believe that the Government have got it right in this Bill, as it is now. That is why I am so glad to have listened to my noble friend Lady Anelay on the Front Bench saying that she was not going to be put off by Mr Hain's usual nauseating nastiness on the radio, and that this Bill would end its life in this House if the Government decide there is going to be an Election in May. That is quite right. This Bill needs a lot of attention. I would like to see it reintroduced as a draft Bill with a good, long period—six months, say—of consideration by a Joint Committee. There are a lot of issues, as the LSE points out, to be addressed. They range from the deeply technical to the libertarian to security. There are a lot of things to be understood.
It will also take some while to persuade the Government that in some ways they have been heading down the wrong track. We are probably all saying that this is the track we are going down, but let us go down it in the right way. It is going to be a fundamental part of our lives, and we want to get it right. We do not want the traditional NHS computer system mess-up happening to us with something which is going to be such a frequent part of our everyday lives.
I have the greatest doubt about the centralised nature of what is proposed. Not that there should not be a central record of these things. I can see a use for it. In the end, it is practical way of producing a back-up. If I lose my card, I want to be able to recreate it. If there is no central record somewhere, or some kind of back-up, then I am going be in trouble. If there is some kind of back-up, then the security services are doubtless going to have access to it, so there might as well be a central record anyway.
What I dislike the idea of, however, is that my getting my food from Tesco becomes dependent on the Government database, or some central database, authorising my identity at that particular moment. It will spend half its time down. I must not be subject to some single, centralised system going down. I must have the local capabilities, in the card that I have, to assert my identity.
It looks, as it is at the moment, to be an extremely costly system in the way it is designed. The more you centralise things, the more you have to build in costs for keeping the system intact, keeping it running and for preventing unauthorised access. It is actually much more costly to run security on a centralised basis than on a distributed one.
By not running a distributed system, you also lose a lot of capability which would be of interest to me as a user. There are things that you cannot do with a centralised system which you can do much more easily with a local system, such as having different local identities. The bus does not need to know that I have the right to shop at Tesco, or that I pay my taxes regularly, or whatever else. When I say "assert my identity", I actually want to assert a lot of little identities. I want to assert my right to be on the bus, to pay my taxes or receive my child benefit, or whatever, and I want to limit the information that anybody else has access to in saying "Yes, sir, you may have what you are entitled to".
By putting all the information in the middle, we increase the opportunities for fraud enormously. It becomes a real target for someone who, as the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, said, wants to get some kind of human intelligence on what is going on there, to make use of the trapdoors—which will be there for the security services—to alter or create new information. It produces horrible consequences for a citizen who suddenly loses their identity. That may happen because it is compromised as a result of fraud, and there is no way back. I have one face, one set of fingerprints and two irises. I cannot change them. That is the point of the biometric system. If someone gets ownership of that biometric data, they have ownership of me and there is no escape. There are terrible dangers, therefore, in allowing that information out into a centralised database where it can then be compromised.
The consequences of failing an ID check are similarly devastating. Everything stops. The Government seem to imply that the biometric systems are foolproof. They are not. They have very high failure rates. If I go and have my irises scanned, and come back a while later and I am checked again, you are looking at failure rates of the order of 20 or 30 per cent.
As the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, says, there are many occupations, and particular nationalities, who have real problems with fingerprints. What happens to face recognition when someone swings a baseball bat at you? Your face can change out of all recognition for a couple of weeks. Will you then be in a position where you cannot get access to Government services because someone has clonked you over the nut? There are all sorts of problems with making everything so centralised.
The noble Baroness, Lady Gibson of Market Rasen, gave some interesting examples of us all carrying ID, and so we do. If the squaddie or prison officer loses his warrant card, however, there are plenty of people who will recognise him and say "Come along, Jim, don't do it again. Here's another one". If I lose my House of Lords ID, people here know me and they can give me another one.
We have got to be certain, however, about what happens to the citizen whose identity is denied by the system, or who loses their card. How do they re-establish it? This has suddenly become an extremely precious thing. It gives enormous access to that person's information. Whoever re-issues a card must be very careful that they give it to the right person. How are they going to do it? How is this going to be a practical, useable, friendly process for someone to go through? By centralising everything, we are creating something which is going to fail hard for a lot of citizens.
If we get into a situation where people are routinely running into trouble on this—where the reputation of the system for not working, for being inefficient, for refusing people their own identity becomes commonplace—we shall get, as the noble Earl, Lord Errol, said, into a flash and go situation. "The picture is on the card, it clearly looks like a national ID card. That's okay, away you go, sir—we know that the ID checks don't really work". Then everything becomes much worse, because you assume that someone with a card that looks right is who they say they are. There is no actual proof because, if someone fails the check, they believe it is the system rather than the person that is failing.
The effectiveness of these systems has been asserted several times by the Government. The particular thing I remember the Minister saying was that a third of terrorists use some kind of false identity. One might as well say that a third of terrorists use the bus network. If false identity is not easily available, they will use some other method. They use it because it is possible; if it were not possible, they would use something else. I have seen no evidence that existing ID systems prevent terrorism. We must question and examine in detail the real benefits of the system proposed by the Government to show that our approach is right.
We must also understand the nature of the changes that will occur in the relationship between the citizen and the Government. The audit trial was mentioned. If we use the ID card in the way that will become possible—as authorisation for all sorts of ordinary transactions—the requirement for a complete audit trail every time it is used for authentication will result in a total biography. The noble Baroness, Lady Gibson, said that the honest citizen should not be frightened of that, but who is that honest citizen? I doubt whether even the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark would put his hand up and say that there was nothing in his life that he would not be afraid to have published on the front page of the Daily Mirror or to be told to someone else; and that he has never in any commercial or personal transaction done something that he regretted.
There will be so much evidence out there that, first, should someone get access to it illegally, or, secondly, should the Government decide that they wish to disparage or deal nastily with a person, they will have so much information at their hands that it will be immensely easy. One of the things that I do not like about this Government is how they treat people who disagree with them. They can be incredibly vicious. Many noble Lords will remember what happened to the noble Lord, Lord Winston, when he dared say that the National Health Service was not perfect. They are a vicious Government but they are a perfectly ordinary Government. If we got a really nasty government that had that information available to them, I would not like to think what they would be capable of. We need to understand what is happening to the relationship between the citizen and the Government.
What has gone wrong is that the Home Office has drafted the Bill. The Bill has been put together for the supposed advantage of the Security Service rather than of the citizen. I would like a Bill under the charge of another, people-facing department—perhaps the DTI—with the Home Office as a client, so that what was done was of benefit to the Home Office but was focused on producing something that we, in our everyday lives, would find useful and valuable.
The key to the acceptance of an ID card and therefore its usefulness to the Government is that it should provide facilities that we the citizens want, in a way that we find easy to deal with. We have gone far from that in the drafting of this Bill. If it is not accepted, if it is resented or ignored, it will become valueless and easier to circumvent.
We should seek a system that can be trialled and that can grow organically. We know that we need a passport system; let us trial the biometrics on that first. The consequence of it going wrong is merely that I have difficulty taking a holiday or that I need to get special permission to go on a business trip. If difficulties occurred in that system, it would not be catastrophic to anybody. Let us trial the biometrics in that environment and, when everyone knows that they are tickety-boo and they work every day, we can start introducing the readers into other circumstances where the consequences of things going wrong are more seriously inconvenient to us.
Let us try out other ways of using these cards and find ways of putting the local authority data on to them, of using them as bank cards and loyalty cards, and replacing the great mass of plastic in my wallet with something electronically controllable and usable that is of real advantage to me as a citizen. If we do that, we will produce the information that the Government want and need, but by common consent and in a way with which people feel comfortable. That is what we should aim at. I very much hope that we as a government will do just that.
The Countess of Mar (Crossbench)
My Lords, the Minister began by saying that our identities are precious and need to be protected. I would happily carry an identity card if I knew that I had ownership of it and of the data in the register to which the card relates.
I will say from the beginning that I feel deep unease about the Identity Cards Bill. I am relieved to know that I am not alone. When the topic is discussed with acquaintances, the initial reaction is that ID cards must be a good thing. As the Minister and other speakers have said, we all carry evidence of our identity with us at some time or another; for example, passport, driving licence, bank cards and business identity cards. It would simplify matters greatly if just one card would serve all those different purposes, would it not? However, when it comes to the proposals in the Bill, it is a completely different matter. Like my noble friend Lord Errol, I wonder how many of the 80 per cent who agree with ID cards know the detail of the Bill.
The carrying of identity cards was compulsory in the UK between 1939 and 1952. Originally, those cards served three purposes. They were for conscription, rationing and national service. As the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, reminded us, when a parliamentary committee looked at their use in 1950, it discovered that those three functions had become 39. In February 1952, the National Registration Act was repealed as one of the first acts of the Churchill government to "free the people". In the judgment that led to the repeal, Willcock v Muckle, on
"To use Acts of Parliament passed for particular purposes during war, in times when the war is past, except that technically a state of war exists tends to turn law-abiding subjects into lawbreakers, which is a most undesirable state of affairs".
The learned Lord was talking about what is becoming known as "function creep". We are already seeing that phenomenon introduced in this Bill. One of the arguments frequently deployed by the Government to justify the ID card scheme is that the UK is required to establish biometric travel documents in any event because of international agreements.
As the noble Baroness has explained, the US Government required all visa-waiver program countries to implement, by October 2004, biometric passport programmes that satisfy International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) standards. The requirement for all EU citizens to be fingerprinted is not as a result of US requirements; it is EU policy and the UK is not bound by the EU specification.
The ICAO's web page says:
"ICAO's mandate to develop MRTDs [machine readable travel documents] is provided by Articles 22, 23 and 37 of the Chicago Convention which oblige Contracting States to develop and adopt international standards for customs, immigration and other procedures to facilitate the border-crossing processes involved in international air transport".
There are a lot of acronyms. It goes on to say:
"MRTDs are developed by ICAO's Technical Advisory Group on Machine Readable Travel Documents (TAG/MRTD). The TAG drafts and adopts "specifications" (i.e. detailed technical requirements) for the design of these travel documents. These specifications are published in ICAO Doc 9303".
The New Orleans Resolution of
"ICAO-MRTD/NTWG recognizes that Member States currently and will continue to utilize the facial image as the primary identifier for MRTDs and as such endorses the use of standardized digitally-stored facial images"—
this language is awful—
"as the globally interoperable biometric to support facial recognition technologies for machine assisted identity verification with machine-readable travel documents. ICAO TAG-MRTD/NTWG further recognizes that in addition to the use of a digitally stored facial image, Member States can use standardized digitally-stored fingerprint and/or iris images as additional globally interoperable biometrics in support of machine assisted verification and/or identification".
I draw noble Lords' attention to the words "can use". We have long debates in this House over the words "can" and "must". This document, which I assume is the one on which the Government are relying for support, says "can", not "must". The Government have therefore gold-plated the base requirement of the ICAO by adding biometric identifiers to the list of identifying information in the Bill. Certainly there is no obligation on the UK to use fingerprint or iris biometrics. This is a form of function creep.
The Bill leaves wide open the opportunity for further function creep. There are far too many clauses—I think the noble Baroness said that there were 60—and subsections which permit the Secretary of State to,
"by order modify";
"make an order adding or containing",
"by order designate".
I have no doubt that, should the Bill go to Committee, these clauses will be thoroughly discussed. We cannot give arbitrary powers to the Home Secretary so freely. I have no doubt that the Minister will give the Government's usual response in these circumstances: "Of course the Government have no intention of abusing the power, and in any case it is open to either House to block the orders". These assurances are not enough, for reasons that we all know only too well.
I make no apology for labouring the points about function creep. I have been talking only about passports. We are told that it is proposed that this "voluntary" ID card will be compulsory when a UK citizen applies for a passport. Already we see that this voluntary scheme will be eroded by the words in Clause 6. The Secretary of State can decide who must register and when. There is no indication of the Government's thinking on this matter in the Bill. The penalties for contravening an obligation to register are not, by any means, light.
As other noble Lords have said, the London School of Economics has today published The Identity Project interim report. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, I have not yet had time to read the full text, but I am impressed by the rigour of the research, which has been overseen by no fewer than 14 professors from very different fields. While the authors agree that,
"the establishment of a secure national identity system has the potential to create significant, though limited, benefits for society",
they go on to state:
"However, the proposals currently being considered in Parliament are neither safe nor appropriate".
As other noble Lords have done, I recommend that the Minister reads the report.
The House will know that I have been concerned for a long time about the quality of the data held by social services departments on their mysterious Samson database. I am appalled that the merest suspicion about a mother exhibiting the signs of the—now discredited—Munchausen's syndrome by proxy, can be entered into the records maintained for a child who is deemed to be "at risk" under the Children Act 1989. It is apparent that the person making the accusation—and I say "accusation", not "diagnosis"—need not be qualified to make it, as in none of the many cases of which I have been made aware, not one single mother—it is usually the mother—has undergone a proper psychiatric examination.
The effect of that is to bar accused mothers from ever working with children—even from helping in a Sunday school. Even if social workers agree that the accusation is a false one, I am told by Ministers that the entry can never be expunged from the record, as it is an opinion that pertained at a particular time and is, therefore, a record of the family's history. Perhaps the Minister can tell me whether a facility for the passage of information contained in the register will be set up for children between their birth and the age of 18, as required by the Children Act 2004 and the register in the Bill.
"unless . . . he considers that it is appropriate to do so".
That makes me deeply unhappy. Surely, natural justice should demand that if a recorded fact is inaccurate an absolute duty to correct it should be placed upon the Secretary of State. Otherwise, particularly in relation to matters concerning employment or health, an individual's life may be permanently blighted, as have been the lives of the mothers I have described.
There is a great deal more that disturbs me. The need for a national identity register in the form prescribed by the Bill cannot be justified. I have heard the words of the Minister, but do Her Majesty's Government really believe that the national interest purposes listed in Clause 1(4) will be best served in this way? Will any more crime, immigration or employment infringements or benefit fraud be prevented because the perpetrators are registered and have ID cards? I believe not. We have banned small arms and have seen an increase in crime involving these weapons. Will the possession of an ID card prevent a determined criminal committing a crime? Such is the sophistication of computer hackers and forgers that they will always be, as they are now, one step ahead of us.
I am told that the Information Commissioner has warned that we are sleepwalking into a surveillance state. As a farmer, I am aware of the various means of providing traceability for livestock. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, left out Defra. It knows all about tracing people. Why do we not have Defra draft the Bill? It also knows about farmers who get around registering their animals. One means of tracing animals is by computer readable microchips. I wonder whether noble Lords are aware that nightclubs in Spain, Holland, and now, I believe, Glasgow are offering to microchip their clients so that their bar bills can be paid directly from their bank accounts without the need for cash or credit cards. Perhaps, in the future, we will all be "chipped" at birth.
I exhort the Minister to heed the words of the late Lord Goddard and the example of Winston Churchill who "freed the people".
Lord Lea of Crondall (Labour)
My Lords, first, I apologise for leaving the Chamber during one or two earlier Back-Bench speeches. Someone wanted urgently to speak to me.
I give the Bill my basic support. Indeed, it may help simplify the myriad requests for people to prove their identity. I have two points. The first is to make a suggestion and the other is to ask my noble friend to put on the record what I think is the position on certain consequences of Clause 31.
In her opening remarks my noble friend referred to the "constructive" response of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants. I too pay tribute to its work and the thought it gave to its response. I should like to refer to one point where the JCWI has concerns. One consequence of the Bill—indeed would it be right to say one of its purposes?—will be the flushing out of people who do not legally belong here. The question arises whether some people, who have been here in this country for donkey's years—I shall not define "donkey's years" for the moment, although perhaps in the Bill there should be a definition—who technically should not be here, should be the subject of an amnesty. That is the thesis of part of the paper submitted by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants. I should like to draw heavily on it.
The JCWI draws attention to the specific problems arising out of attempts to define the term "foreign national". First, there are those who are not British citizens but who are lawfully settled in the UK, some with the right of abode. This group will fall under the early compulsory registration scheme. They are for all purposes no different from British citizens in material respects. There is no obvious justification to compel this group to undergo compulsory registration before British citizens.
Secondly, there are those with long residence in the UK; some have lawful residence, others do not. Thirdly, there is a group of foreign nationals who do not have a right to reside in the UK—overstayers; for example, students who have completed their courses and remained without leave—but who have been in the UK for a number of years. They have made their homes here. This group is largely benign, industrious, tax-paying, often undertakes lower-paid work, if necessary, has contributed in different ways to the community and has a stake-hold in society. Compulsory registration, boasting an inclusive approach could—indeed the JCWI says "will"—alienate and exclude this group further.
Fourthly, this group has limited opportunity to regularise its position under the Immigration Rules but fears to do so because there is no guarantee that it will obtain regularisation prematurely or otherwise. Experience shows that its fears are well founded, because the Immigration Rules confer no entitlement on the group to indefinite leave to remain. Indefinite leave to remain is, at best, a matter of discretion. The conditions for indefinite leave to remain are difficult to meet. The position of this group in the UK will become untenable. To meet the problem created by the introduction of a compulsory registration scheme, the Government may, and, as I advocate, should, announce some amnesty to bring it into the inclusive scheme.
I do not totally follow my noble friend Lord Giddens. It is not a question just of establishing someone's identity. That point was well made, in different ways, about the separate issue of whether Lloyds Bank needs to supplement what it seeks from utility bills and so on. The scheme is not to do with establishing identity, as my noble friend Lord Giddens said; it is what follows from establishing that identity; namely, that someone has no proper right to be here or "no proper papers", to use a phrase that has connotations.
It is true that some people who have not been here long will have to consider their position and spend the next three years doing so. Let us take as an example someone who has been here for 10 or 15 years. Perhaps some of us know such a person—young or old, at work or retired. They may be running a successful business—not that those people should be in a separate category, but there is a whole range. Would it not be possible to go along in some way with the advice of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants in considering criteria for those who could be covered by an amnesty in the way that I have suggested?
I try to visualise the trauma that many such people, long resident here, are already going through and will continue to go through, if they cannot get an identity card. Perhaps the Minister will tell me if I am wrong, but those people will feel that they have the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads. So some clarity on an amnesty would be highly desirable. I do not expect a positive response on this point from my noble friend today, or even a sympathetic response, but—who knows?—if the election goes the right way and this Bill is not already on the statute book, a limited amnesty, based on clear, published criteria, would provide great reassurance to a good many people.
My second point relates to Clause 31. The TUC is concerned that Clause 31 could raise the possibility of criminal sanctions being applied against people who lawfully took part in industrial action. Clause 31 creates criminal offences relating to tampering with the national identity register that are punishable with imprisonment for up to 10 years. I would like the position to be put on the record.
The clause suggests that anyone whose job involves maintenance of the register, accessing or retrieving information, or facilitating access to or retrieval of information from the register could be committing an offence by participating in otherwise lawful industrial action. Clause 31(3) makes it clear that the offence covers conduct which,
"makes it more difficult or impossible for such information to be retrieved in a legible form from a computer on which it is stored . . . or contributes to making that more difficult or impossible".
Clearly, industrial action by civil servants and others with responsibility for administering the register, on the face of it, could be covered by that provision. I have given notice to the Minister of that point, and I seek clarification, on the record, that that interpretation, which is causing concern, is not reasonable, and that civil servants and others who are involved with the administration of the scheme would not be made liable, should their industrial action make it difficult or impossible for information to be retrieved, as described in Clause 31(3).
Lord Stoddart of Swindon (Independent Labour)
My Lords, I first of all declare an interest as a paid-up member of NO2ID. That organisation, together with Liberty, gives out information about ID cards and the dangers to individual liberty that might be associated with the Bill.
The noble Baroness, Lady Gibson, described the organisation as "sinister". I must say that that is the first time that I have ever been described as sinister. I have been described as lots of things, but never sinister. If an organisation doing what I believe it is doing is sinister, we have come to a pretty pass.
Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen (Labour)
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. I did not describe him as sinister; I described the organisation as sinister. I think that any organisation is sinister when it hides behind a PO box number and sends out lots of literature to all of us but does not state who it is and what it really stands for.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon (Independent Labour)
My Lords, an organisation is made up of members. If you describe the organisation as sinister, it follows that those people who belong to it are tainted with the same brush. I cannot answer the point of the noble Baroness about the PO box number. It may be that the organisation is not very well financed and does not have the money to set up an office. That may be why it uses a PO box number. I do not want to get stuck on the point, but the noble Baroness may ask another question.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon (Independent Labour)
My Lords, I do not know about the finances, but it may be that there are people who are so concerned with individual liberty that they are prepared to finance such documents, glossy or not. In any event, I am a member of it, and I am glad to be a member of it.
When I was a member of the Labour Party—I was a member for more than 50 years before I was expelled—I was always brought up to believe that ID cards and central registers were the tools of dictators and racists. Now it appears that that has all changed. I also associated with people who were proud to be called libertarians. I always have been and am still proud to be called a libertarian, because without such people we would not have any liberties in this country. They have always been under attack from one source or another. So let me declare again that I am proud to be a libertarian.
As we have heard, this Bill had its genesis in the prevention of terrorism, and that is what I want to concentrate on. I have to say that I am completely and utterly opposed to the Bill. It is not necessary to deal with terrorism. Outrages have taken place in other countries where ID cards are in use, such as in Spain, so ID cards have not prevented acts of terrorism taking place. Indeed, is it not odd that in this country, which does not have identity cards, we were able easily to arrest last Saturday a suspect in Slough on a Spanish extradition warrant? We did not need ID cards to do that. It was done efficiently and the court case is being heard today.
I fear that the drive to introduce ID cards has more to do with authoritarianism than with the prevention of terrorism. It follows inroads into the right to trial by jury; the attack on habeas corpus; the imposition of control orders and house arrest without reasons being given, and we now understand that the making of such orders is to be kept secret from the general public; undermining free speech by measures such as the incitement to religious hatred, the Bill for which is now before us; reversal of the presumption of innocence in some cases; the welter of new criminal offences over the past decade, and the reduction of the role of Parliament through ill-thought-out legislation rushed through the House of Commons by means of restrictive guillotines. We have done without ID cards and a national register for hundreds of years, and have dealt with considerable previous terrorist threats without them, and we can do so now.
It used to be the case that everyone believed that government was there to serve the people, but the new Jacobinism—if I can call it that—is turning that dictum on its head and sees people as the creatures and servants of the state. Osama bin Laden must be laughing his head off as he sees our Government using him as a bogeyman to undermine our traditional freedoms and democratic rights on the pretext that it is the only way to keep our people safe from terrorism. Yet even as those traditional individual rights and freedoms are being whittled away here in the United Kingdom, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have the temerity to lecture other countries on the subject of democracy.
But there are indeed grave doubts about whether the ID card system can work. We have heard about them today. Such a huge undertaking has never before been attempted. The technology has not been tried and tested. Indeed, I understand that it does not exist at present. We are all aware of the great Child Support Agency debacle, and surely that ought to give pause to those seeking to impose this legislation on the people of this country. Together with the late Lord Russell and others, I was one of those who spent the watches of the night in this Chamber warning the Government, a Tory government, about the dangers and the unsuitability of the child support organisation. But they would not listen, the Bill went through, and now it is a disaster and a catastrophe. So I wish that governments would listen to noble Lords in this Chamber rather than carry on in the same old way, in accordance with their original thinking.
Again, biometrics have been mentioned, but they have never been used on this scale before and their use in this way could lead to miscarriages of justice. The Government also cite in support of these proposals that they will help to deal with crimes other than terrorism. However, the marvellous report by the London School of Economics shows that in a range of countries without ID cards, crime is on a downward trend, whereas in countries with them, the trend is upwards. So ID cards do not necessarily help to deal with crime.
Many people in Britain seem not to have woken up to the implications of a national register and ID cards. The penalties for non-compliance with ministerial orders are large and could involve imprisonment, while swathes of information about individuals will be made available not only to a host of public authorities, but perhaps also to private firms and institutions. The cost estimates are likely to escalate, some say by a factor of three. That will impose a much higher ID card charge than the £35 to £40 which is presently envisaged.
We are being told that ID cards will not be made compulsory for the present, but that is the clear intention in the medium or long term, and if the Home Secretary is to be believed, they are to be tied in with a European Union ID card. I quote now from the Home Secretary's speech to the EU Justice and Home Affairs Ministers made on
"'An effective identity card system would make it easier for the Government to drop border controls with the rest of Europe', Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, said in Brussels yesterday . . . 'The introduction of ID cards could change the situation 15 . . . 20 years down the line'".
So it is clear that the ID card system has a connection with the European Union. In fact, it seems that we are on course for an EU ID card, which no doubt would have to be carried at all times. Presumably, all the information about British people contained on those cards would be made available to public and perhaps private bodies in all the EU countries. That ties in with the view of the EU police chiefs task force, which agreed in October 2001 that the EU should speed up the universal adoption of ID cards. I should like to know whether that is proceeding. It seems evident that the Bill is a step on the road to a compulsory EU ID card, and not confined to the UK.
But there really is no need for ID cards to fight terrorism and crime. The considerable resources and effort needed to introduce and manage the system would be far better used in improving the finance, manpower and efficiency of our security service and police forces, and in having policemen spend 90 per cent of their time on observation, patrolling, investigation and surveillance rather than, as they do at present, spending 90 per cent of their time doing office work and menial tasks in police stations. Surely this would be more fruitful and effective than imposing an alien and sinister ID system that will in any event turn into an administrative nightmare.
I am glad that the Bill is unlikely to make any further progress if a general election is to be held on
Baroness Wall of New Barnet (Labour)
My Lords, I appreciate the opportunity to speak in this important debate this evening. I wrote the words "this afternoon" in my notes, but this has been a very long and interesting debate.
This is an issue that already touches every aspect of our lives. The maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Ballyedmond, was absolutely tremendous. I made my maiden speech not very long ago but the technicalities of the noble Lord's speech put the simplicity of mine very much in the shade. I thank him for his speech.
I shall not go into all the ins and outs of the Bill, as many noble Lords have done. However, I want to make an observation before I talk about what I think are the real issues for people out there. I found absolutely unbelievable the scary way in which some noble Lords described our Government and the way in which this legislation would, or could possibly, be used. The noble Countess, Lady Mar, asked what the 80 per cent of people who now believe that identity cards are okay would think if they knew what the Government were going to do with the information. I believe those people would say that was absolutely okay. Most people with whom I am in contact believe that identity cards are very important, and that, as my noble friend Lady Gibson said, they have nothing to fear from whatever information about them is available on record.
I should like noble Lords to take a moment to look around the Chamber. We are all wearing our identity badges, or should be. All our staff—
Baroness Anelay of St Johns (Spokespersons In the Lords, Home Affairs; Conservative)
My Lords, I appreciate that the noble Baroness would not know that there is no offence if we do not wear our identity badges within the Chamber as they interfere with overhead cameras. I say that in defence not only of myself but of others. However, I am sure that we appreciate the noble Baroness's general point.
Baroness Wall of New Barnet (Labour)
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for those comments. I noticed that she removed her identity badge when she entered the Chamber. I now know that I ought not to wear mine regularly in the Chamber.
I was going on to say that all the staff who look after us, the police who protect us, our researchers who facilitate these speeches, and our families who visit us here regularly, not only have ID badges but wear them round their necks. Many even wear them as a badge of honour, as I do. However, in future I shall remember what was said about wearing passes in the Chamber.
I wonder whether noble Lords are aware of the documentation that a researcher who wishes to work here has to complete to apply for a pass. Very much the same information as would be required for ID cards under the Bill would have to be provided by researchers. Obviously, they would have to state their name, their surname, previous surnames, nationality and any previous nationalities that they may have held. Applicants would be asked about their families, their history, any criminal convictions that they might have incurred and would be asked to provide much security information. I believe that all of us in this Chamber would say, "and rightly so". However, why are we different from anyone else in that regard?
I understand that the main opposition to this scheme concerns the database which will manage the information. The "NO2ID" campaign, of which the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, indicated he is a member, states that the national identity register will control your identity. It will decide who you are. Well, I know who I am and I am not convinced that the Government knowing my name, my address, the date and place of my birth and other such information will change that. Indeed, after all, Waitrose probably knows as much about me as anyone in this Chamber. In the future we shall have the opportunity to examine and assess the merits of any more information that is requested by the Government for inclusion on the ID card.
I would like to end by saying that we use methods of ID in every environment in the country from banking, to driving, to flying. If the introduction of this scheme can not only assist us in our day-to-day lives, but also protect us, I would not question its introduction, and neither, I think, would the 80 per cent of people in favour of it. I understand the concerns of the Opposition but we cannot have our cake and eat it.
Lord Young of Norwood Green (Labour)
My Lords, I applaud the Government for taking what I consider to be a sensible and necessary approach on this matter. Like my noble friend Lady Wall I believe that there is a certain irony in having this debate in this Chamber when we know that some individuals do not just remove their identity badges, or security passes, when they enter the Chamber but refuse to wear them at all. They do not seem to understand the basic purpose of the passes.
I share with all noble Lords the view that no one wants unnecessary intrusion or government intervention in their lives. That takes us back to the issue which we debated for 32½ hours—that is, the balance of rights and responsibilities, which was analysed by my noble friend Lord Giddens. At this point I too should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ballyedmond, on a superb maiden speech. I liked the analysis that he made and, like the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, I agreed with many of the conclusions of the maiden speech.
Is there a need to change? That is the primary question which we have to ask ourselves. I wish to refer to three aspects of the matter. First, as the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, said, we live in a global society with huge movements of people and populations. That will not change—it will increase—and puts pressure upon the organisation of our society. Secondly, identity theft is no longer something about which one reads as a theory and as something that may or may not happen. It has doubled over a recent period of time. It represents a real and serious threat to individuals, to banks, and in terms of benefit and passport fraud. Thirdly, the illegal traffic in human beings has resulted in some exploited cockle pickers losing their lives in Morecambe Bay and in unknown numbers of women often being held in captivity for the purposes of prostitution.
Terrorism and illegal immigration are other factors with which we have to deal and which I believe merit a change in the way in which we organise identification in our society. What exists at the moment? Passports are easily forged. There is a real industry in forged and fraudulent passports. The same could be said of a number of other means of identification whether they comprise driving licences or credit cards. We have a system at the moment that is certainly less than perfect.
The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, said that we would be forced or coerced to register. Well, we are forced or coerced to register for a national insurance number when we start employment, and no one seems to think that is an unwarranted intrusion on civil liberties. I do not understand the use of that kind of terminology, although I welcome the debate. She then asserted that the cost of identity cards will be £5.5 billion and will rise to £10 billion, without a shred of evidence to support her claim.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns (Spokespersons In the Lords, Home Affairs; Conservative)
My Lords, if the noble Lord considered a little more of my speech, I was saying that those figures have been put forward variously. We have not heard from the Government a substantiation of what the costs will be for specific parts of the scheme. Of course I appreciate, as I am sure does the noble Lord from the way in which his peroration is developing, that the costs will depend on how the scheme works. The Government have not yet told us what the scheme fee will be or how it will work. I was being a little more pedantic than the noble Lord.
Lord Young of Norwood Green (Labour)
Not a lot, my Lords. I do not think that the use of the word "variously" counts as a conclusive proof. The Government have started, although not finished, the analysis in giving us some idea of costs and of the best estimate for a combined passport and identity package and other cost evaluations. We have not seen the full scope of that evidence. Maybe it is not all available at the moment, but it is not right to quote figures of £5.5 billion leading to £10 billion. That does not help the debate, although it is realistic to challenge the Government to produce the most adequate figures that they can.
The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said that the Bill will not help at all in relation to terrorism and immigration and that nothing is foolproof. I certainly agree with his last assertion that nothing is foolproof, but I do not see how he can assert as a fact that it will not help at all with either illegal immigration or terrorism. It will play its part, but it will not be a panacea as some people have said.
Lord Dholakia (Deputy Leader, House of Lords; Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, will the noble Lord give way? That was the starting point when David Blunkett came up with the suggestion of introducing ID cards. One cannot dispute that, and that is what I was saying in my speech.
Lord Young of Norwood Green (Labour)
My Lords, it may have been, but it is not the only reason, and we have heard that from the Minister. It is not the only reason that I have quoted. I was merely picking up on the point that it is wrong to say that it will not play any part at all.
I also do not understand how we can say that it will conflict with the European Convention on Human Rights, when 21 out of 25 countries in the European Union already have identity cards. It seems to me that if that really was the situation, by now someone would have attempted to raise it. I agree with my noble friend Lady Gibson when she said that we would require safeguards to ensure that we deal with all immigrants in a reasonable and fair way.
I also share the concern about the question of the technology, and the need to ensure that it is robust and that we do not face the huge cost over-runs that some introductions of new technology have caused to occur. I do not share the view of the noble Earl, Lord Northesk, who seems to feel that the Government have a hidden agenda. The Government have made it perfectly clear that yes, there will be a compulsion to register but not a compulsion to carry the ID card. That is clear, and it currently exists in the Bill. The hidden agenda seems to be the centralised register, which the noble Earl, Lord Errol, said that people do not understand. That is being a bit patronising; surely people understand. We have a system of passports; there is a centralised register. If we have a centralised system, there will be a centralised register. People do understand that, and they understand what is happening to the society in which we live.
It is said that ownership of identity would be taken from our hands to those of the state. Actually, that ignores that ownership of identity is being taken from some people's hands to another pair of illegal hands. That concerns people greatly these days. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, seems to fear that we will have to use it every time we go to Tesco or do any other small-scale transaction. Frankly, I doubt it. Anyway, he went on to analyse a lot of worst-case scenarios. If you listened to the debate that was taking place today, you would imagine that no IT system was working in this country. There are many that do work very well indeed, which is not to say that we have not had problems, but we should not extrapolate to the point where somehow we are describing technology as though it is not a benefit to society any longer.
The Earl of Northesk (Conservative)
My Lords, would the noble Lord say that, on the admission of the Home Secretary, what is proposed in this Bill has never been contemplated before? Its reach is broader—relatively speaking, it is huge.
We all understand that there are many IT projects out there right now. Some work, some do not. What matters fundamentally about this project, however, is that it is unique, and it takes the technological barriers over and beyond hurdles that have yet to be crossed.
Lord Young of Norwood Green (Labour)
My Lords, I would agree with the noble Lord to the extent that it is important that we get the technology right. I am sure that will be a challenge. However, to hear the caricatures of technological systems as mostly failing and not working, we might imagine that we had a society that was in a permanent state of collapse. That is far from the case. I am making a plea that we get this in proportion. It will be a challenge, but one we can meet.
Many more comments were made about the scale of systems and the amount of information, and whether this will benefit the public. This last was a point made by a number of people, including the noble Countess, Lady Mar. They asked whether we will get function creep, and whether the system would be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. Of course it will be. How we can compare the situation we face today with that when Churchill presided over the abolition of identity cards after the war escapes me. We are not in that kind of society. Would that we were, in which case I doubt we would be having this debate today.
I would like to reassure my noble friend that I do not think he is sinister at all. Mind you, I do not think he is right, either. When I was a young socialist, I am not sure that I saw ID cards as the tool of dictators and racists—although I suppose it is possible that they could have been used in those ways—and I certainly do not in today's circumstances. Again, I emphasise the point made by the Government in the Bill, that the compulsion will be to register and not to carry.
In this debate, we have to take into account today's circumstances and the requirements of today's society. We have the capacity within this Bill to balance rights and responsibilities to benefit us all.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine (Spokesperson in the Lords, Home Affairs; Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, I rise for the first time from the Front Bench on a home affairs matter. I beg the indulgence of the House in case I transgress in any manner.
For a moment I was completely confused. I thought I had lost my place in the speakers' list and that the Government were delivering their official response in the form of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green—but I am sure the Minister will not let us get off so easily, and will come back with a robust rebuttal to our views.
We welcome the Minister's statement on the Bill. We also welcome the thought-provoking speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Ballyedmonds, delivered with such direct experience of some of the issues when breakdowns of law and order take place. It was a pleasure to listen to him.
In setting out her stall, the Minister has added to existing confusion on the aims of the Bill. In addition to the aims set out in the Bill, she assures us that the creation of this type of ID card and register will enable the state to put a halt to all sorts of nefarious activity. She said biometric data will solve the problem of a range of other crimes.
On the other hand, we are told we are doing this essentially to comply with international obligations, such as those imposed by the US on new passports from next year. She tells us that some 21 out of 25 EU members already have ID card schemes, so the implication is that it is merely a harmonising measure, and we are just coming into conformity with the rest of Europe. I shall touch on that when I come to the noble Lord, Lord Young, as well.
My noble friend Baroness Ludford asked the Minister to reassure us that the Government were not undertaking this project in order to comply with EU or US requirements. The fact is that the US is implementing a biometric passport of its own. It will only require a digital photograph on a chip in a passport, and will not use a centralised register or database. So, lest we think that this is being imposed on us by international obligations, we should get that straight.
In Clause 1, we turn to the claim that the scheme will enhance national security and combat organised crime and terrorism. The only serious research in this area was undertaken in 2004 by Privacy International, who are quoted extensively in the report referred to by so many noble Lords, the LSE Identity Project Interim Report. They found no evidence to support the claim that ID cards combat terrorism. I quote a short part of that aspect of their report:
"Terrorists have traditionally moved across borders using tourist visas (such as those who were involved in the US terrorist attacks), or they are domiciled and are equipped with legitimate identification cards"—
that is, they have lived for some time in the country where they intend to operate. Those were the ones who carried out the Madrid bombings. The report continues:
"Of the 25 countries that have been most adversely affected by terrorism since 1986, eighty per cent have national identity cards, one third of which incorporate biometrics. This research was unable to uncover any instance where the presence of an identity card system in those countries was seen as a significant deterrent to terrorist activity".
Then we turn to the prevention and detection of crime. According to police in most economically developed countries, the major problem in combating crime is not lack of identification procedures—ID cards or something similar—but difficulties in the gathering of evidence and bringing about a prosecution.
Several other aspects of the Bill cause concern. It brings about enabling legislation. It is written with a broad brush, with the detail left to the Home Secretary to bring forth in secondary legislation. While we accept the need for processes to be worked out in more detail, possibly at a separate stage, the range of powers to be dealt with later gives rise to concerns that relate to our civil liberties and human rights. We cannot accept that such a change to the relationship between the citizen and the state can be left to secondary legislation, which would be unamendable. We will therefore seek that the power to amend regulations be in the Bill. We are also concerned about the breadth of information that can be held and the element of compulsion that will be used.
The Minister graciously mentioned the work of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. As I am its only member speaking in the debate, I crave the House's indulgence for a few minutes to set out some of its many concerns. The JCHR put 14 broad but detailed and specific questions to the Home Secretary, which were responded to in some form or other. Nevertheless, it has chosen to highlight that its concerns continue. Page 3 of the fourth progress report states:
"The committee notes the Government's argument that the Bill is enabling legislation, and . . . points out that it has repeatedly stressed the importance, where legislation intrudes on rights protected by Article 8 ECHR (right to respect for private and family life), for safeguards to be contained on the face of primary legislation . . . The Committee maintains its concerns at the scale of personal information which may be held on the National Identity Register under clause 1 of the Bill, in particular that held under clause 1(5)(h) and Schedule 1 paragraph 9 . . . The Committee concludes that the retention of this high level of information may not be sufficiently targeted at addressing the aims set out in clause 1(3) to ensure proportionate interference with Article 8 rights".
I shall not go on and on, but have one final point. The report states:
"Under clause 4 of the Bill, where a document, such as a passport, is designated by the Secretary of State . . . The Committee considers that the effectively compulsory registration of personal information, dependent on application for a designated document, gives rise to a risk of disproportionate interference with Article 8 rights".
The Minister confirmed that the powers set out in Clause 6 are to become compulsory. That is worrying, as it allows for a move to compulsory registration, for either all or particular groups. The details of a move to compulsory registration are not yet known to us, but the Home Secretary has confirmed that non-EEA third-country nationals might be required to register under Clause 6. What effect would that have on certain elements of the community? I come from the Muslim community, and know of the level of concern within it. Would the relatives of Muslims, who had recently arrived here under family reunion plans, be required to register compulsorily while their son or daughter—the citizen—would not?
Overall, the amount of personal information on the register and the wide range of powers for which it might be applied—particularly where those do not relate to immigration controls—create the impression that Clause 6 would not comply with convention rights. Indeed, it would probably be open to challenge under the Human Rights Act from the outset.
It has been a wide-ranging debate with interesting views put from all sides. I found myself in the rare position, like the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, of agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, who pointed out that liberty seeks to limit the freedoms of the few to expand the freedom of the many. He is quite right. The problem with this Government's approach is that they seek to limit the freedom of the many to deal with the problems caused by the few. They do not expand the freedom of the many—that, whatever else it may be, is not what New Labour is about.
The noble Earl, Lord Erroll, quite rightly warned of the problems with the central register and many other technical aspects of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has the ability to blind us with his technical knowledge, but he raised some real concerns about over-reliance on biometrics, in particular on the dangers of a centralised system. The noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, spoke so eloquently of the particular problems of those many non-citizens who contribute so much to this society, and we endorse his views.
The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, made strong points on the central purposes of the Bill, and the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, queried how any of the provisions in the Bill could possibly fall foul of the European Convention on Human Rights—I commend the fourth progress report to him. This particular Bill will contravene Article 8, and Article 14 when read in conjunction with Article 8(2). From the way it is drafted, he queried why the 21 countries in the EU that have ID cards were not taken to the European Court of Human Rights. The answer is simple: they do not have this Bill. This is an authoritarian Bill which is nothing like many of the schemes that operate in other EU countries.
Conscious of the time, we come to the costs variously put at £3 billion, £5.5 billion—that is the Government's figure at the moment—and rising. We have heard today of costs as high as £10 billion—
My Lords, I hesitate to rise, but I have heard this figure of £5.5 billion on so many occasions. That may be the figure of Her Majesty's loyal Opposition, but it is not the Government's.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine (Spokesperson in the Lords, Home Affairs; Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, because we know so little of the detail of the way that the processes and technology will work, and the requirement for the outsourcing of the technology, we must be somewhat sceptical of whatever figures are provided. We know from our experience that the National Health Service computer system was meant to cost billions in single figures, and at last estimate has cost £26 billion. If the figure of £5.5 billion is not a government figure, we would be delighted to hear from the Government what they think the figure will be, so that we can test what the coverage and outlay of the provisions will be against it.
We understand that most of the bill for the cost of the scheme will be picked up by the citizen, who will be obliged by the state under powers of compulsion to fork out for the ID card. In the various opinion polls cited by the Government, was the question put to people that they would have to pay something to the tune of £85 per head for each ID card? Think of the figure when it applies across a large family. When the details of similar schemes were put to people in Australia and New Zealand, the resounding "Yes" that had been there before turned to a deafening "No". We suggest that something similar might happen here if the details of the scheme get out.
In conclusion, I echo the sentiment of my noble friend Lord Dholakia when he wonders why we are seeing this authoritarian piece of unworkable and expensive law come down to our Chamber in the last few days before we break up and the country goes to the polls. If the Government really had their heart in it, we would have seen a workable piece of limited legislation which would meet all our concerns to combat terrorism, save life and liberty, and leave the citizen in his rightful relationship with the state.
Baroness Seccombe (Deputy Chief Whip, Whips; Conservative)
My Lords, I rise to speak from these Benches as we come towards the end of this Second Reading debate. We have had an important and interesting discussion on this topic and I hope that it has been useful for the Government to learn a little more about how this House feels about the controversial issue of identity cards. We have heard a wide range of views—from real enthusiasm to outright hostility—on the Bill that has been presented to your Lordships' House today.
My first, and very pleasant, task is to add my warm congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Ballyedmond. His wide experience and knowledge of the impact of terrorist activity will certainly add to the quality of further debate on the Bill.
I remember as a very small child in 1939 having a silver bracelet with the number QEJR/176/4—please note that it was "stroke 4"; forward slash had not been invented in those days—engraved on it. It never came off my wrist until the war was over, and I must admit that it did not appear to do me any harm. But what a different world we live in 65 years later.
I begin by echoing the words of my noble friend Lady Anelay, who opened this Second Reading debate on behalf of the Opposition. We realise that the Home Secretary inherited a difficult job, and I have to admit that he also inherited a difficult piece of legislation.
The recent extraordinary events in this Chamber and in the other place during the passage of the Prevention of Terrorism Bill earlier this month show that we recognise that the world is a very different place from the one before
As we have already heard today, the Commons did not have much of an opportunity to scrutinise this Bill when it was in another place. As usual, their debates were subject to guillotine Motions and, consequently, the Bill has come to this House in great need of detailed consideration and proper scrutiny. As we have heard, the Bill establishes the framework for introducing identity cards to this country. It is vital for us to consider that framework and to get it right. So there is an enormous amount of work to be done as the Bill progresses through this House.
The position of the Opposition has been made clear by my noble friend Lady Anelay, but I would like to make my contribution to the debate by outlining again to the Government our position on the Bill. We feel that the Government should be able to meet those five reasonable tests before we in this House and my honourable colleagues in the other place pass the Bill. Let us be in no doubt—all the tests are important and they are all critical to the judgment of these Benches on the Bill as a whole.
First, we would like the Government to make completely clear the specific purpose for which the ID cards they are proposing are being brought forward. There have been conflicting reports in the media and from the government Benches on this point, and we would like the House to be told once and for all what these ID cards are really for. If we do not know the purpose of the cards, how can we judge whether the need for them is great? How can we tell that the mischief they are aimed at is likely to be solved by the introduction of this legislation? In essence, we would like to know why the Government are seeking to introduce this legislation and why it has been drafted in this particular way.
Secondly, we would like to know about the technology aspect of the cards. It is true to say that in this country we have problems with the forgery of documents such as passports and that the crime of identity theft is on the increase. Can the Government assure us that the system which they propose to use to implement the cards and the way in which they will protect the data stored on them will be robust enough to stand up to such problems? How will the Government protect against such fraud, forgery and identity theft? How will they ensure that someone will not be able to breach the security of the computer which holds all the data?
As we have heard in this debate, biometric technology is fallible, and we need to be aware of what might go wrong with the scheme so that we can safeguard it as much as possible.
Thirdly, we would like the Government to place on the record whether they have in place the organisation necessary to introduce the scheme. In the other place the Home Secretary stated that this is a project that would take years to implement and is not something that can be rushed. We on these Benches accept that point entirely. However, we need to know that all the time we are moving forward on this enormous undertaking we are moving in the right direction. I look forward to the Minister's comments on this point.
Fourthly, and I feel rather inevitably, we come to the issue of cost. The Government have consistently shifted their ground on how much the scheme will cost. Will the Minister indicate the current thinking? While we realise that it will cost money to make the scheme safe and effective we have no desire to sign a blank cheque on the Bill.
We also have the question in the back of our minds: would the money be better spent elsewhere? If the Government want to stop illegal immigration, should we not spend the money on improving security at our ports, for instance?
Finally, we have concerns regarding civil liberties. The Bill proposes measures that will impact on every citizen of this country. The Government will gather and hold information on millions of people and we need to ensure that that is done correctly and that the public have confidence in the system that the Government are running. Only when those five criteria are satisfied can we have confidence in the proposed Bill.
I as QEJR/176/4 and my colleagues look forward to examining the issues as we move to the next stage.
My Lords, we have had a truly fascinating debate with some extremely fine speeches. I thought that initially I would try to list them, but there was real competition. Would I allude to the passion of the noble Earl, Lord Northesk, the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas?
Or what about the commitment and passion of the noble Countess, Lady Mar, and my noble friend Lord Stoddart; the erudition of my noble friend Lord Giddens; and the good sense of my noble friends Lady Gibson of Market Rasen, Lord Lea, Lady Wall and Lord Young—who was accused by the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, of stealing my somewhat weary position at this Dispatch Box? I assure her that my noble friend did not quite do that, but I would be happy for him to have my space.
There was also a spirited exposition by the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, of the liberal cause. Rarely have I heard such political speeches in your Lordships' House. Then we had the calm persistence, with her usual charm, of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, followed by the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe. We will always try to remember her number as we have seen it before.
So where are we? All that passion and erudition demonstrates that this is an issue of real importance to the House, and indeed to this country, and there is a passion to get it right, whichever side of the debate one falls. That is something that we must applaud. We welcome the depth and breadth of the scrutiny that will be given to the Bill in this House, because this is a debate that we must have in a way that will benefit our country. It is important that we acknowledge the enormity of the task with which we are all faced.
This piece of legislation, whatever else one can say of it, is certainly not a rushed piece of legislation. The plans for identity cards have already been subject to considerable public consultation and debate over the past three years. A six-month public consultation exercise started in July 2002, with the publication of the entitlement cards and identify fraud consultation paper. A further consultation on the draft Identity Cards Bill started in April 2004. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, asked for such a consultation, so I say to him, with a degree of gentleness, that we have had it. An inquiry by the Home Affairs Select Committee started in 2003 and concluded in October 2004, following pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Bill. So noble Lords may say many things, but not that this is a rushed piece of legislation. The Identity Cards Bill was introduced in another place on
I also remind noble Lords that I do not accept the argument that this legislation radically changes the relationship between the state and the individual. I cannot accept that argument because the relationship between the state and the individual did not change in 1837 when it was made compulsory for every birth in England and Wales to be registered and recorded nationally, nor when similar provisions were introduced at a later date in Scotland and Ireland.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, suggested that we need to pilot biometric identity cards. I hope that noble Lords remember that I said earlier that we have already carried out a biometric enrolment pilot involving 10,000 people enrolling face, finger and iris biometrics. A report on that trial will be published in due course.
My noble friend Lord Giddens referred to the report by the London School of Economics that was published today. Like the noble Lord, I only saw the report just before this debate started. I can reassure the House, and my noble friend, that the Government will look at it very carefully. However, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that we have already looked in some detail at that matter, as I described.
I shall clarify some misconceptions once again. During the debate, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, talked about tax and finance records being disclosed on the bus. The register can contain only the information specified in Schedule 1. It will not contain tax or finance records, nor will it be of any use to the noble Lord on the bus until he is eligible for free travel on account of his age. I understand that that may be some time yet.
The noble Countess, Lady Mar, was concerned about entries on the database relating to parents alleged to have injured children. The national identity register can contain only the information referred to in Schedule 1. It does not, and cannot, contain medical or criminal records, nor allegations of abuse. It will not be linked to the children's database referred to by the noble Countess.
As to Clause 2(5) concerning the discretion of the Secretary of State to modify incorrect data, it is true that this clause does not make it obligatory to correct inaccurate or incomplete entries. However, the right to rectification under the Data Protection Act will apply. If the Secretary of State refuses to exercise his power to modify an entry, the data subject can apply to the civil courts for an order under Section 14 of the Data Protection Act to rectify the entry.
The short answer to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, about whether the Data Protection Act applies, is, "Yes", and all its works too. That robust instrument is there. None of the rights and duties is disapplied by the Bill. They will apply, subject only to the normal qualifications and exemptions in the Data Protection Act.
The noble Earl, Lord Northesk, questioned the title of the Bill. It is right that the national identity register is at the heart of the scheme, as is made clear in the title of the Bill. However, for the majority of people it is about identity cards. This is not only the clearest way of stating it, but the most appropriate title for the Bill.
I shall clarify the issue in relation to the ICAO. I was wounded at the thought that I might somehow have added to the opaqueness of the Bill. Let me try to clarify the subject and allow a little light to fall on it. The existing ICAO standard for passport biometrics is for a mandatory facial biometric. However, fingerprint and iris image biometrics are being considered by the EU as well as the ICAO as optional biometrics for passports.
In response to the queries of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, I refer to paragraph 70 of the impact assessment. Examples of the areas in which public services will benefit from ID card schemes include administration, social security benefits, improving eligibility checks for free non-emergency NHS treatment, speeding up and improving the accuracy of criminal records bureaux, higher education, and general administration of services. There will be a broad spectrum of benefits.
The noble Lord asked whether people would need proof of address. The noble Earl, Lord Erroll, also raised the issue. To establish both identity and entitlement, applicants will be asked to provide their current address and a history of addresses. That is most likely to be over the past six years unless there are particular reasons for needing more information; for instance, if someone has lived abroad. The addresses will be checked during the footprint check, and if discrepancies are identified, they will be discussed at the meeting. An inability to provide proof of an address will not prevent people being registered on the national identity register.
Clause 43(10) gives power to make regulations on circumstances in which places can be regarded as an individual's address. That is likely to be used to allow students, travellers and homeless people to provide a contact address. Those issues are dealt with in relation to the Bill.
I turn to the thrust of the main points raised by the noble Earl, Lord Erroll. Biometrics are being developed around the world to improve the security and reliability of identity documents. British visitors to the United States are, as I said, already required to provide fingerprint biometrics on arrival. We have started to pilot the inclusion of fingerprint biometrics on United Kingdom visas, and the Home Office has introduced application registrations to asylum seekers which incorporate fingerprint biometrics. That has successfully demonstrated its utility in combating multiple asylum claims, including concurrent multiple claims that were being used as a route to making fraudulent benefit claims. We know that it works.
The Countess of Mar (Crossbench)
My Lords, has the Minister heard the one about the Spanish bomb with the fingerprint on it which belonged to a United States lawyer who had never been in Spain? It was definitely his fingerprint and he was gaoled for two weeks while it was ascertained.
My Lords, if the noble Countess is suggesting that there are no circumstances ever when these things can be checked, that is clearly not true. It gives us a level of precision and ability to identify that we would not otherwise have. It is a tool, not a panacea, but it is extremely useful in the fight that we unfortunately have with dishonesty, fraud, terrorism and other matters.
The noble Earl raised the issue of biometrics and whether they would be difficult to match. Most checks of a biometric will be against the holder's own identity and record. That is one rather than the only check that will be made. It is right, too, that we shall continue to have other cards that are issued for specific purposes. We are not suggesting that identity cards should replace library cards, for example. They are unlikely to do that. Individuals will use those cards in a way that is very helpful and productive as regards identity. That is the real import.
I was asked whether the Bill will help in relation to crime and terrorism. The clear indication is that it will. That view was expressed by Sir John Stevens in November 2003 when he said that it is absolutely essential in the modern, dangerous world in which we live to have proper means of identification. Also, a team of officials went to Madrid to talk to the Spanish authorities about identity cards and their experience. The Spanish police stated that an identity card system makes life harder for terrorists and easier for the police. It hinders terrorist operations and makes it easier for the police to investigate and to track down terrorists.
It was difficult to say exactly to what extent an identity card scheme contributes to preventing or frustrating terrorism because identity cards have been long-established in Spain, so there is no comparison. However, the police believe that ETA terrorists have been marginalised and driven to reside outside Spain because they can be identified. The Spanish police state that they have identified nearly all the terrorists involved in the Madrid bombings and that that was made significantly easier by their identity card scheme. Identity cards were also used to identify the victims of the bombings quickly. So it is not just useful in identifying villains, but it can be incredibly useful in identifying victims.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine (Spokesperson in the Lords, Home Affairs; Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. Perhaps the Government's information is not quite as up to date as it might be. In the famous LSE report there is an extensive study of crime reported by police in EU countries which notes that Spain, which has ID cards, has the highest number of terrorist-related incidents in the whole of the EU—1,218.
My Lords, I hear what the noble Baroness says, but we have to listen to what the police say. They are saying clearly that without ID cards the situation would be even worse. Whether that helps us is a matter for noble Lords to consider.
Perhaps I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart. Imprisonment for failure to pay will not be an issue. There will be a civil penalty and civil penalties are recoverable in the civil courts, in debt recovery proceedings. Non-payment of debt cannot result in imprisonment. That was prohibited by the Debtors Act 1869 and is subject to certain extensions that perhaps are not entirely relevant here.
To take up the point of the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, on financial services, in July last year the Financial Services Authority (FSA) made it absolutely clear that, in its view, the Bill has utility. It said that in the long term, if identity cards were a more effective token of identity than anything currently available, they could contribute substantially to the fight against crime and reduce the cost to industry. Those matters are clear.
It is also true that the widespread use of false documents is an essential aspect of terrorist activities. Al'Qaeda's training manual requires its operatives to acquire false identities to hide their terrorist activities. We believe, therefore, that ID cards will make it harder for them to do that.
I am conscious of the time. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, raised the issue of border controls and how they will be strengthened. We believe that ID cards will help to strengthen our borders against organised criminals for many of the reasons to which I have just alluded.
The noble Lord also mentioned devolution and the difference that that will bring. As with passports or immigration documents the issue of identity cards will apply uniformly UK-wide. Therefore, the Bill covers matters that are reserved to the UK Parliament. However, the use of identity cards to access public services that are devolved will be matters for the devolved administrations. Some would say that the joy and the whole point of devolution is that those differences will be possible.
I was asked about costs. The costs are £186 million for set up over the first three years; £415 million is the annual cost for biometric passports by 2008-09; £85 million is the annual cost for ID cards; £50 million is the annual cost for verification; and £85 is the estimated cost of an ID card/passport package. Those remain our current and best estimates. The noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, will therefore forgive me, perhaps, for having risen to my feet at her £5 billion, because that is significantly different from our figures.
I should also tell your Lordships that the ICM survey showed that, when told the current proposals are for an ID card and passport package costing £85, 68 per cent of those asked still thought it was a good idea. I am sorry to disappoint the noble Baroness, but we would say that was fairly robust.
I join my voice to the congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Ballyedmond, on his maiden speech. It was a very fine speech indeed, not least because I agreed with it. The noble Lord brings a wealth of experience to this debate, and we in this House have always benefited from that diversity of experience which enriches our knowledge and ability to understand issues which are not necessarily our normal ken or point of reference. I congratulate and welcome the noble Lord.
The noble Lord, Lord Ballyedmond, very much echoed what was said by my noble friend Lord Giddens. There are some who argue that having a national database of names and addresses and other identity information linked to biometric identity cards will be the start of some sort of slippery slope. I simply say that we do not believe that is the case. We agree with the assessment made by, and the wise words of, the noble Lord, Lord Ballyedmond, and the accurate analysis of my noble friend Lord Giddens.
Conscious of the five points of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, that I have to deal with—which I shall do incredibly swiftly—I say to my noble friend Lord Lea of Crondall and my noble friend Lady Gibson of Market Rasen that they are absolutely right in their analysis of Clause 31. I give them the assurance that they seek—I shall do so telegraphically because of time, and shall be quite happy to outline it more fully later.
Both the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, and the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, raised their five points. First, legislation must clearly define the purpose of the cards. The Identity Cards Bill sets out statutory purposes at Clause 1, and makes clear that identity cards are provided to individuals as security and a reliable method of proving identity; for helping to identify people securely in the public interest; to help prevent and detect crime; to help enforce controls on immigration and illegal working; to safeguard national security; and to deliver more efficient and effective public services.
Secondly, is the technology sufficiently well developed and robust? We say that it is. The Government have always made clear that, before the final move to compulsion, there will be a rigorous evaluation to ensure that the technology is working and that public services have implemented the technology and business changes necessary to take full advantage of the scheme.
Is the Home Office capable of making the cards work? The short answer is yes. The identity cards project is subject to regular scrutiny by the Office of Government Commerce, a gateway review process. The ID cards will be issued by a new agency, building on the existing UK Passport Agency. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, will remember the history of the Passport Agency. Will she now rejoice with me at its total reformation and rehabilitation as an institution of some great excellence?
Baroness Anelay of St Johns (Spokespersons In the Lords, Home Affairs; Conservative)
My Lords, I cannot resist the invitation to put on record my gratitude to the Passport Agency for allowing me to attend a meeting, arranged by my noble friend Lord Marlesford, about passport fraud. The dedication of the people in that service is second to none, and I thoroughly applaud what they have achieved despite some of the huge difficulties they have faced.
My Lords, I welcome that, and I am sure they will be delighted by the generous way in which the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, has expressed her congratulations to them, which I, wholeheartedly and without reservation, endorse.
As to whether ID cards are the most cost effective way of tackling the problem they seek to address, many of the costs of introducing biometric identity cards will be needed in any event, with the move to introduce biometric passports. The Government remain confident that the benefits of the ID card scheme will outweigh its cost.
We do not believe that ID cards will pose a threat to civil liberties. The Identity Cards Bill will allow ID cards to be used by any service, public or private, to establish identity with the consent of the holder.
I believe that I have now covered all the issues. I regret that it has taken me 22 minutes to do so. I thank anyone who has to transcribe what I have said with such rapidity.
The Countess of Mar (Crossbench)
My Lords, the noble Baroness has skated over lots of things, all in a great hurry. Some of her points have been a little difficult to absorb. She seemed to imply that there was no need for her to read the LSE report because the Home Office had already considered matters in it. Did I hear her correctly? Will she explain why other government departments came to meetings when they were invited to by the LSE but the Home Office was either too busy or had other things to do and could not come?
My Lords, first, as I made absolutely clear, we will read the report and consider its findings as everyone has suggested. Secondly, throughout the passage of the Bill it has been clear that the Home Office has been assiduous in trying to ensure that, wherever possible, we or our officials have attended meetings, engaged in consultation and given briefings. I do not know the history regarding the LSE but I can assure the noble Baroness that consultation is one thing on which we seem to have excelled on this Bill, as on so many.
On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.