Orders of the Day — Identity Cards Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:40 pm on 28th June 2005.

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Photo of Neil Gerrard Neil Gerrard Labour, Walthamstow 8:40 pm, 28th June 2005

The more I consider the Bill, the more I am convinced that the problem is not the identity card but the database that lies behind it. It is inevitable that registration on the database will become compulsory. There is no prospect of that not happening. Once that has happened, it is again inevitable that it will become compulsory to produce the card, at least for specific processes, such as access to some public services. We are then likely to reach the point when it is compulsory to carry the card. If that happens—I believe that it will, in those stages—it will fundamentally change the relationship between the individual citizen and the state. If is futile to pretend otherwise.

We are being asked to approve the specification, commissioning and construction of probably one of the most complex databases that has ever been built. There is no international experience of building such databases. The system will involve three biometrics and a large population database, which will be used for a multiplicity of purposes. Hon. Members who spoke both in favour of and against the proposals have missed some of the points about what the construction of such a database means.

The database will be different from those with which we have already had to deal. Many of the databases that exist now do not have to cope with the problem of people who do not want to be on them or who fail to register for them. Some people will not wish to register on the proposed database on principle. Others, such as those with chaotic lifestyles, will fail to register. As we have heard, that also applies to people with some disabilities.

Millions of non-British citizens will be on the database. It must be permanently accessible from a wide range of public and private locations for it to perform any of the functions that are claimed for it. It is simply not comparable with existing systems.

If I were asked to propose an organisation to produce such a structure, the Home Office would not be high on my list. There has been no proper explanation of the construction of the database. If we are to have a clean database, which will be the gold standard, I want to hear how the information will be validated and verified. I have not heard that. I want to know how the enrolment centres will conduct the process. If faulty data appear from the beginning, the database cannot work from day one.

The Bill is a recipe for disaster. Some of the myths of what it is supposed to achieve have already been discussed this evening and I shall not repeat them, because of lack of time. They include tackling terrorism, benefit fraud and identity theft, which is not clearly defined. Claiming that the answer to identity theft is an identity card is a non-sequitur unless one specifies what identity theft involves and how it is carried out.

We are told that the police want identity cards. I do not believe that they do. They want a national database, which will become a national biometric register. That will allow them to check up not only on those who have been involved with crime previously but on anyone on whom they wish to make any sort of check. These are ill-thought-out proposals.

I have no objection to passports and biometrics, but I want the database to disappear. I cannot support the proposals otherwise. It would be possible to produce an ID smartcard that would perform a good many of the required functions and would also be much more secure. Any IT expert will tell us that putting all our eggs in one basket will not work.

The Government have said that they want to listen and want to talk to us. The programme motion does not convince me of that. If we are really to have a debate about the evidence and the detail of that evidence, we cannot do so in three weeks.

There is no way I can vote for the Bill, and I will certainly vote against the programme motion, because it will kill the possibility of the genuine debate that we ought to have.