Orders of the Day — Identity Cards Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:14 pm on 28th June 2005.

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Photo of Austin Mitchell Austin Mitchell Labour, Great Grimsby 7:14 pm, 28th June 2005

About 20 per cent. of the population do not have passports. They prefer to take their holidays in Yorkshire—very sensibly, as it is the most beautiful part of the whole world—and they do not have passports. What are we going to do for them? Are they to be forced to have a passport that they do not want and an identity card with it, and are they to be charged for them?

What about the huge underclass of people who sleep rough, people who move house and flit around, people who are just not traceable, people who stay out of the way of authority? What will happen to them? Are we going to employ bounty hunters to go out and hunt those people down in order to force them to have a passport? If we make the ID card free for such people, it will increase the charge levied on other people enormously. It will be a very expensive operation gathering all those people together in a shuttered van, so they do not know where they are going, and taking them to a treatment centre to force them to be fingerprinted, to have a retina scan and to accept all the joys that the rest of us will already have faced. It is just not conceivable that everyone can be forced into this scheme.

The scheme in any case has huge holes in it. It certainly runs against EU free movement directives and it will not apply to Irish citizens. I could also mention the risk of technical failure. People will lose their cards, just as I keep losing credit cards. I have even had passports stolen from my car. What will happen when people lose their ID cards? How will they be replaced and at what cost? About 40 per cent. of the London population changes address every single year, which is incredible. No one particularly wants to leave Grimsby, but I can understand why people want to move out of London. Massive numbers of cards would have to be changed on that basis.

What of the failure of verification? We read from Home Office reports that verification proved successful in dealing with 96 per cent. of Irish scams, 69 per cent. of facial verification cases and 81 per cent. of fingerprint frauds. It is a cumulative process, but there are bound to be people for whom the system will not work. The LSE report estimates that new cards will be necessary every five years—the Home Office estimates every 10 years, as people's irises change with age and as the fingerprints of people who do heavy manual work change. People like me will be subject to regular requirements to have a new scan.

It is all very well saying that technology will improve and eliminate all those problems. If the technology changes, the whole database will have to be changed because wholly new records will be required for the new technological system.

Many hon. Members have already alluded to another obvious difficulty—the possibility of cock-ups. This will be the biggest such technical project in the world, involving listing, registering and recording three basic elements of our personality, plus a photograph. Just think of the potential for the sort of cock-ups that we have already seen in the child benefit system, the national health computer system and so forth. What a feast the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee will have after the contract is implemented.

Another problem that annoys and upsets many people is the problem of jumped-up authority. There are always people who think that, because they wear a uniform, they have a right to harass and make life difficult for people by hovering over them, demanding information and putting questions to them. I recall the problem with the sus laws, which produced very angry feelings among ethnic communities, but this will be far worse. Who will be harassed? It will be the rough sleepers, the deprived, anyone who looks odd, anyone who looks doddery, like me coming down Victoria street, anyone who is black, anyone who is coloured, anyone who looks foreign. The potential for all those people being harassed is enormously increased.

When Roy Jenkins was Home Secretary in a previous Labour Government, he was faced with an incursion of people, which was causing public reactions, so he looked into the idea of having a national identity card scheme. He decided that it offered few benefits and that it offered them at a disproportionate cost. We should take exactly the same view.

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Chris Lightfoot
Posted on 3 Jul 2005 1:51 am (Report this annotation)

Presumably, read "iris scans" for "Irish scams" -- I assume this is an error in transcription by the Hansard reporters.