The Bill states clearly that the ID card cannot be used as the sole means of verification of identity for the provision of any public service. It sets out a procedure whereby a public service provider—a local authority, a library, or whatever—can join the system if it wishes to do so, as it has the right to do. Linked to the point that I have just made, that can be done only with the consent of the individual identity card holder. I think that that is a perfectly reasonable system to operate.
Concerns about police powers have been widely expressed, particularly in regard to stop and search. I want to make it clear that the Bill, and the introduction of identity cards, will make no difference to the general powers of the police to stop people for no reason and demand proof of identity. The Bill will make no difference to the powers that exist under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. In fact, quicker, reliable access to confirmed identification would help to reduce the time a suspected person might spend in police custody. The effect of that would be to reduce the number of people wrongly held in police custody while their identity was being checked, which would be of benefit to the individual and to the police.
I also want to confirm that there is no requirement to carry an identity card at all times, as there have been many questions about that. In regard to the power to make regulations to require an ID card to be produced to access public services, clause 15(3) specifically prohibits any
"regulations the effect of which would be to require an individual—
. . . to carry an ID with him at all times".
I also want to address the concerns expressed by ethnic minorities. A spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain has been reported as urging the Home Office to reassure Muslims that they would not be singled out, saying that the key point would be whether the community would be "unfairly targeted". It will not be, and I can give that assurance quite specifically, for the reason that I have just given. Similarly, a spokesman for the Commission for Racial Equality asked whether there were
"adequate safeguards in place to address the potential adverse impact on particular groups in our society".
Again, I can give that assurance. The race equality impact assessment, which was published with the Bill, sets out quite clearly how this situation will be addressed. The fact is that ethnic minority communities, like other communities, have no reason to fear the ID card system, and still less reason to fear that they will be targeted in any way.