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Orders of the Day — Identity Cards Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:38 pm on 20th December 2004.

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Photo of Janet Dean Janet Dean Labour, Burton 8:38 pm, 20th December 2004

I was just about to come to that point. Some of my constituents are indeed concerned about the cost of the card to individuals, especially regarding the price that will be charged to the least well off in society, such as pensioners, who might not have any wish or need to purchase a passport. In that respect, I am pleased that the Government have already made a commitment to issuing cards at a reduced fee for vulnerable groups such as those on low incomes and to looking further into arrangements for the elderly, including consideration of some non-biometric cards for those who are frail and cannot be expected to have biometric measurements taken.

Although there is widespread acceptance of the principle of ID cards, the introduction of a system will bring benefits only if we can be sure that the national identity register is secure, with up-to-date information and accurate biometric identity markers. The report of the Home Affairs Committee states:

"We believe there is a danger that in many day-to-day situations the presentation alone of an identity card will be assumed to prove the identity of the holder without the card itself or the biometrics being checked, thus making possession of a stolen or forged identity card an easier way to carry out identity fraud than is currently the case. The availability of readers of cards and biometrics, including to the private sector, is therefore a crucial factor."

I know from the Government response to that Select Committee report that some Departments have begun to assess their need for identity card readers. It would seem that there is still much work to be done to establish the true requirements of both the public and the private sector.

We should recognise that the Government's proposals for identity cards go much further than those in other countries, but also that we do not have a history of requiring as strict a registration system as many other countries do. Sweden has had a personal number system from birth for many years, but we found when we met people there that the country is yet to decide whether to have biometric measurements. The Swedish cards will be mainly for travel within Europe. In Germany, people are used to having to notify the authorities immediately of any change of address, yet the country has not gone as far with identity cards as we are proposing.

I believe that a system that does not involve biometrics would not be worth introducing. The use of biometrics should enable us to have a secure system, but to ensure that, it is vital to use accurate technology, to protect the system when data are inputted and to check the information rigorously. Providing the system is secure, it should not be possible for people to register more than once.

One of the concerns of the Home Affairs Committee was that we should avoid so-called function creep. For example, the development of the national identity register could establish a national fingerprint register, posing the question whether it should be used for solving crime as well as proving identity. We thought it highly likely that there would be public pressure for the information to be used to detect offenders, especially in the case of serious crime. The Home Affairs Committee report also stated that the benefits must not be entirely, or even predominantly, to the state. I am glad that the Government recognised that in their response.

Combating identity fraud will protect the individual as well as tackling crime. It will be useful for young people to be able to identify themselves when making age-related purchases. It will also be helpful if individuals no longer have to notify many different Departments of a change of address.

As long as the Government proceed with care, there is everything to be gained from having ID cards for the security of the country and the safety and protection of individual members of our society.