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Clause 1 — The National Identity Register

Orders of the Day — Identity Cards Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:38 pm on 18th October 2005.

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Photo of Patrick Mercer Patrick Mercer Shadow Minister (Homeland Security), (Assisted By Shadow Law Officers) 4:38 pm, 18th October 2005

I beg to move amendment No. 8, in page 1, line 10, after 'others', insert 'who reasonably require proof'.

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The context here is s. 1 (3), which defines the purposes of the scheme; the amendment...

Submitted by Chris Lightfoot Continue reading

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:

No. 9, in page 1, line 16, leave out from beginning to end of line 6 on page 2 and insert—

'(a) of assistance to the Secretary of State in preventing or detecting terrorist acts in the United Kingdom or elsewhere or otherwise in the interests of national security;

(b) of assistance to the Secretary of State in preventing or detecting serious crime;

(c) for the purposes of controlling illegal immigration and enforcing immigration controls; or

(d) for the purpose of securing proper provision of relevant public services.

(4A) For the purposes of subsection(4)—

"relevant public services" means the provision of—

(a) healthcare,

(b) housing,

(c) education, and

(d) social benefits;

"serious crime" means crime giving rise to an offence triable only on indictment.'.

No. 6, in page 1, line 16, leave out paragraph (a).

No. 10, in page 2, line 1, leave out 'prevention or'.

No. 24, in page 2, line 1, after second 'of', insert 'serious'.

No. 15, in, clause 8, page 7, line 10, leave out 'and'.

Government amendment No. 2

No. 16, in clause 8, page 7, line 12, at end insert

'and

(c) is issued for the following purposes only—

(i) to assist in preventing or detecting terrorist acts in the United Kingdom or elsewhere or otherwise in the interests of national security;

(ii) to assist the Secretary of State in preventing or detecting serious crime;

(iii) the purposes of controlling illegal immigration and enforcing immigration controls;

(iv) the purposes of securing proper provision of the following public services, namely

(a) healthcare,

(b) housing,

(c) education, and

(d) social security benefits.'.

No. 20, in clause 45, page 39, line 14, at end insert

'But an order bringing sections 8 to 10 into force may not be made unless a draft of the order has been laid before, and approved by, a resolution of both Houses of Parliament.'.

Photo of Patrick Mercer Patrick Mercer Shadow Minister (Homeland Security), (Assisted By Shadow Law Officers)

We have been here so many times previously, and I am sure that the Under-Secretary, Andy Burnham, is sharpening his knife to prepare many of the arguments that I have heard twice in Committee and on which his knife has been blunted at least once.

I hope that the group of amendments, which simply questions the purpose of the register and logically extends that questioning to the card, is reasonably straightforward. I hope that the amendments are self-explanatory but I shall speak briefly about them.

Clause 1(3)(a) reads:

"The statutory purposes are to facilitate, by the maintenance of a record of registrable facts about individuals in the United Kingdom . . . the provision of a convenient method for such individuals to prove registrable facts about themselves to others", to which amendment No. 8 would add, "who reasonably require proof".

Amendment No. 9 makes a considerable addition to the provisions, and is logically followed by amendment No. 16, which would amend part of the register and the card referred to later in the Bill. Amendment No. 9 would delete paragraphs (a) to (e) of clause 1(4), and would add a new paragraph (a) that something is necessary in the public interest if it is:

"of assistance to the Secretary of State in preventing or detecting terrorist acts in the United Kingdom or elsewhere or otherwise in the interests of national security".

Everyone can read the amendment for themselves, but I would like to point out that it also proposes the addition of the words:

"For the purposes of subsection (4)—

'relevant public services' means the provision of—

(a) healthcare,

(b) housing,

(c) education, and

(d) social benefits;

'serious crime' means crime giving rise to an offence triable only on indictment.'."

Except for the last line, that provision is almost the same as amendment No. 16, which relates to identity cards rather than to the register of facts. I hope that amendment No. 6 is also fairly clear. It simply proposes to delete the reference to national security in clause 1(4)(a).

The purpose of the amendments is to question in detail precisely why we are setting about this extremely difficult, demanding and intrusive piece of legislation. We have already heard the contradictory explanations for the purpose of the register and the card. For instance, on 3 July 2002, Mr. Blunkett, who was then Home Secretary, said:

"I accept that it is important that we do not pretend that an entitlement card would be an overwhelming factor in combating international terrorism".

Later, however, in answer to a question from another Member of Parliament, he said that he would not rule out the possibility of

"their substantial contribution to countering terrorism".—[Hansard, 3 July 2002; Vol. 388, c. 231, 236.]

I hope that the Minister will explain how those statements now stack up, after the relatively short space of three years. In the light of the events of 7 and 21 July, can the former Home Secretary's opinions be reconciled with the Minister's adapted view of the register and the card?

In December 2004, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside told Parliament that the security services had advised him that 35 per cent. of terrorists used false identification. The general secretary of Interpol, Ron Noble, told the House of Lords Home Affairs Committee that all terrorist incidents involved the use of a false passport. However, when he was challenged about that claim, he was unable to present evidence to support it. In 2004, Privacy International published the findings of the only research ever conducted into the relationship between identity cards and terrorism. It found that there was no evidence to support the claim that the cards could combat terrorist threats. Its report stated:

"The presence of an identity card is not recognised by analysts as a meaningful or significant component in anti-terrorism strategies."

The events of 7 and 21 July obviously brought this issue into much closer focus. I thought it instructive that the current Home Secretary pointed out at the time that even if identity cards had been used, they would have made absolutely no difference to the events of those two days, which the Minister and I both remember clearly, as we were in Committee on at least one of those days.

If this card is designed to combat terrorism, how can it do so against the sort of terrorist that we saw operating in this country in July? This country has tried identity cards previously in the shape of specialist driving licences, as issued in Northern Ireland. They were never broadcast as such, but they were a distinct attempt to try to contain terrorism using a form of identity card. They failed—I can vouch for that, as I was there at the time. The great benefit to us 10, 20 or 30 years ago was that those terrorists with whom we were dealing were identifiable, as many of the families involved had been engaged in terrorism for years, so it was a fair bet that a son or daughter born to a particular family might have subversive views. That is not so with the new brand of terrorist.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs

In relation to Northern Ireland, I agree that there have been attempts at introducing one form of identification or another down the years. Does he agree that were there any evidence whatever to suggest that formal identification methodologies had been effective in Northern Ireland, the Government would have provided it, yet there has not been a single occasion on which they have been able to do so in the entire history of the identity cards debate?

Photo of Patrick Mercer Patrick Mercer Shadow Minister (Homeland Security), (Assisted By Shadow Law Officers)

I am grateful for that intervention, and I will answer the hon. Gentleman by saying that it was my experience that this quasi-identity card—which was issued first in the mid-1970s, I think—had a converse effect to that which the Government sought. As he will remember, anybody who had such a card or driving licence on their person had a pass, which, if shown to police or soldiers, gave them free passage. So, it had precisely the opposite effect to that which was intended. If the cards had worked in Ulster, why was their further use not developed? Why was biometric information not added to those cards when that experiment was tried? Empirically, the experiment failed to control terrorism, and I believe that it will do so again. From the mouths of Ministers, including the Home Secretary, it is acknowledged that identity cards would not have affected how "clean skins" operate inside this country.

Photo of Adrian Bailey Adrian Bailey Labour, West Bromwich West

I have been listening to the hon. Gentleman's argument, and I accept that identity cards would not prevent a particular incident from taking place. However, their use and a register would make it much easier to identify people using multiple identities subsequently, and would therefore aid their capture and reduce the global pool of would-be terrorists.

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There will be no impact on preventing terrorism. This system will only identify a UK citizen who has an identity card. So foreign terrorists won't be covered. In the case of UK citizens we already have multiple ways...

Submitted by Steve George Continue reading

Photo of Patrick Mercer Patrick Mercer Shadow Minister (Homeland Security), (Assisted By Shadow Law Officers)

That is a fair point. If that is the case, however, first, let us confirm that the biometrics and technology will work to allow that to happen. Secondly, why did the Home Secretary say in July that identity cards would not have affected the two sets of attacks? I do not know. Conceivably, if the card can be made to work, if the biometrics are feasible, and if it comes in at a reasonable cost, there may be something in it. I see nothing at the moment that suggests that it would work, however.

Photo of Adrian Bailey Adrian Bailey Labour, West Bromwich West

I cannot recall the Home Secretary's exact words in July, but I do recall a discussion about the use of identity cards in Spain to identify the Madrid bombers, and about mobile phones. Because it was necessary to register an identity card when buying a mobile phone, it was possible to track down the bombers.

Photo of Patrick Mercer Patrick Mercer Shadow Minister (Homeland Security), (Assisted By Shadow Law Officers)

That is not the point that the Government are making. The bombers in Spain were identified as a result of a number of basic mistakes that they made with the use of mobile phones. The fact that evidence had been well maintained and recorded, and had been used by both the mobile phone companies and the police—as well as the curiously amateurish behaviour of the terrorists—allowed the terrorists to be identified.

The hon. Gentleman did, however, make a fair point. The bombers who killed themselves on 7 July did two things very deliberately. First, they made sure that their faces were recorded by cameras before they went to their deaths. Secondly—this is really the point—they made sure that they had on them forms of identity so that their bodies could be identified, and they would reap whatever rewards they thought they might as a result of claiming responsibility for their acts.

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the Spanish identity card played no role in the detection of those responsible for the Madrid bombings?

Photo of Patrick Mercer Patrick Mercer Shadow Minister (Homeland Security), (Assisted By Shadow Law Officers)

It certainly played no role in preventing the bombings, although it helped when linked with telephone records.

Had identity cards been on the bodies of the 7 July bombers, that would have been frightfully helpful; but that is not the point. The cards are not about trying to identify dead bodies. They are about what we call preventing terrorism.

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

The bombers in Spain were still alive, and the police and security services were able to locate them rapidly. That may have prevented them from carrying out further damage and destruction.

Photo of Patrick Mercer Patrick Mercer Shadow Minister (Homeland Security), (Assisted By Shadow Law Officers)

That is simply not the case. As the Minister is well aware, those terrorists attacked again within two weeks.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Opposition Whip (Commons)

I think that this is a bit of a red herring. The amendments are concerned with how we can make the register more robust. Loopholes in the Bill need to be tightened. There are far too many freedoms in it. We are trying to deal with serious crime. We are trying to ensure that facts about security are listed. We shall discuss that later, but massive loopholes are littered throughout the Bill, and we seek to tighten them.

May I add that all this discussion about whether or not someone has—

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

No, the hon. Gentleman may not. An intervention should be very much more concise.

Photo of Patrick Mercer Patrick Mercer Shadow Minister (Homeland Security), (Assisted By Shadow Law Officers)

My hon. Friend is right: there are loopholes all over the place. The amendments seek to define the purpose of the register and of the identity cards, which is why at least two are linked.

Photo of Lynne Jones Lynne Jones Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak

I agree with Mr. Ellwood. Is not the point that the Spanish identity card has a very different scope from the card proposed in the Bill, which includes an enormous database? The Government could obtain the advantages that they believe the Spanish card provides with a much simpler system.

Photo of Patrick Mercer Patrick Mercer Shadow Minister (Homeland Security), (Assisted By Shadow Law Officers)

The hon. Lady is right. The Spanish model is entirely different from the one proposed by the Government.

In the context of terrorism, the card stands condemned by its own statements and indeed those of Ministers. Let me amplify a point I made earlier. In January this year, a mess tent in Baghdad was blown to pieces. There were 43 casualties, both Iraqi and American. It seems likely that the suicide bomber who blew them up was an Iraqi policeman, and that he was carrying an identity card that allowed him to get through the security checks and to penetrate to the very centre of his target before detonating his bomb. In some ways, such a card would not impede terrorism; indeed, it might actually help it.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

Do we not need to know from the Government precisely how helpful identity cards and the register would be in the detection and prevention of terrorism, so that we can judge whether the system's disadvantages would be outweighed by such help? Is it not true that at the moment, the Government are offering the blanket statement—sometimes it is a blanket statement—that this provision will be frightfully helpful in dealing with terrorism, but that on other occasions, they say that it will not be quite so helpful? What we really need to know is how helpful it would be, so that we can properly judge whether it is worth the candle.

Photo of Patrick Mercer Patrick Mercer Shadow Minister (Homeland Security), (Assisted By Shadow Law Officers)

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that intervention and he is absolutely right: we need to ask ourselves whether this card is really going to deliver the promises that have been made. I have made the point, I trust, that the Government's view changes by the day. On First Reading, which I had the perhaps tainted pleasure of attending some months ago, terrorism played a big part in the Bill's logic. When we went through the Bill for the second time, the Government's line suddenly changed after 7 July. In a way, it is lucky for them that the House rose on 21 July, before these issues could be examined in any great detail.

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Labour, Chorley

I have great respect for the hon. Gentleman's military background and for the great knowledge that he brings to this House, but I am a little bit concerned about the example of the mess tent bombing that he mentioned. He said that the ID card allowed the bomber to access the tent and then to explode the bomb, but even if the bomber had not possessed such a card, he would surely have had some kind of pass; in fact, without one he could not have been a member of the police force. We should also consider the example of this House, which gives passes to people so that they can enter it. So trying to argue that the ID card allowed the bomb to be planted in the mess tent is stretching the House a little.

Photo of Patrick Mercer Patrick Mercer Shadow Minister (Homeland Security), (Assisted By Shadow Law Officers)

I would not wish to stretch the House in any way, shape or form, and nor would I wish to stretch my credibility with the hon. Gentleman. I was trying to expand on, perhaps even dilate on, the point that a form of identity can—can—assist terrorists. Obviously, the circumstances in Iraq are very different from those that we face today. The fact remains, however, that had the identity card scheme been in place, such cards would quite legitimately and properly have been with all the bombers who died on 7 July. They might have been very useful in identifying their shattered remains, of course, but they certainly would not have prevented terrorism.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP, Belfast East

The hon. Gentleman is being very generous in giving way. Is it not true that the more the security forces rely on identity cards, the less alert they will be to other factors? In the Iraq case that was mentioned, the person in question probably waved the identity card and managed to get straight in. But if similar circumstances arise in the United Kingdom, it is very likely that terrorists who do not want to be detected will have false identity cards, and that they will therefore be waved through the various systems of checks.

Photo of Patrick Mercer Patrick Mercer Shadow Minister (Homeland Security), (Assisted By Shadow Law Officers)

Possibly, but such terrorists need not necessarily have false identities. Having a proper, pukka, legal, straightforward identity will not prevent terrorism. I was a serving soldier in Northern Ireland when the illustrated driving licence was introduced—it was introduced first with a photograph and then with a thumbprint—and we were told that it would be the solution to terrorism. Much of the terrorism in Ulster was conducted by people using cars, trucks and the like, and we were told that the licence would solve the problem. It did not. On the contrary, the tired, wet, exhausted and distracted soldiers saw that piece of identity as a pass—something to assist rather than impede.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

There may be a number of circumstances in which possession of an identification card helps to prevent terrorism, but in the majority of cases, that will be so only if the possession and carrying of the card is made a mandatory requirement of law. That, of course, is expressly excluded by the Bill. Does my hon. Friend agree?

Photo of Patrick Mercer Patrick Mercer Shadow Minister (Homeland Security), (Assisted By Shadow Law Officers) 5:00 pm, 18th October 2005

As usual, I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for his intervention. He is quite right that the carriage of the card—though the register may have some useful purposes—is not required by the Bill. Having sat through several Committee sittings, I know that we were told that enabling legislation could be introduced quickly to compel people to carry the card, but I absolutely take my right hon. and learned Friend's point.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons)

My hon. Friend is being notably generous in giving way. This provision pertains to who is to maintain the register and what is to appear on the card when it is issued. I am very concerned both about what is going to be on the card and about who will have access to it. For example, could clause 1(4)(d) oblige every employer to check every potential employee and, if so, how will employers do that and how will they gain access to the register?

Photo of Patrick Mercer Patrick Mercer Shadow Minister (Homeland Security), (Assisted By Shadow Law Officers)

Those questions certainly need to be answered, but I would suggest a prior question: will the card work? Is the technology capable of recording the various details to which my hon. Friend has just referred? I shall not test your patience further, Mr. Deputy Speaker, by digressing to answer that question more fully. It will, in any case, recur later on and it remains a hugely good and important point.

I believe that the Government have tried to make the card all things to all men—a one-size-fits-all approach. We know that the card will not have to be carried and that no one can demand to see it, and we shall come on in due course to the cost of the card, which I believe will be prohibitive. The fact remains that the benefits of both the register and the identity card are highly dubious and I do not accept the claim that they will prevent terrorism.

Photo of Mark Fisher Mark Fisher Labour, Stoke-on-Trent Central

As others have said, the hon. Gentleman is being extraordinarily generous in giving way. He is establishing some important points, but before he finishes, will he comment on the fact that the card will not only articulate identity, but allow the actions of the bearer to be traced? It is both a contact card and a contact-less card. As one enters a public place, the card establishes that one has been there. When an individual possesses the card, the actions and activities of its bearer are traceable. That is an important matter, which has not been at the forefront of debates on the Floor of the House, though it may have been mentioned in Committee.

Photo of Patrick Mercer Patrick Mercer Shadow Minister (Homeland Security), (Assisted By Shadow Law Officers)

I can certainly confirm that the human rights elements of what might be called the Big Brother aspects of the card have been explored thoroughly in Committee. To my mind, those aspects are hugely disagreeable, but if the Government wish to control a population, put a population under surveillance or poke their nose into every detail of someone's life, I can see that those aspects could be viewed as highly desirable. I would reply to the hon. Gentleman by posing the question whether the card could ever work.

Photo of Matthew Taylor Matthew Taylor Liberal Democrat, Truro and St Austell

Pursuing that point, is not the opposite likely to be the case? Is not the process of registration of tens of millions of people built around the same paper process that we already use to identify people and is it not capable of being abused? Could we not be creating an opportunity for thousands or even tens of thousands of false identities to be created at the very process of registration in the first place—carrying over all the weaknesses of the present ID systems? Once the card is issued, the biometric data can tell us that this is the person who holds that card, but it certainly does not tell us that it is a genuine identity.

Photo of Patrick Mercer Patrick Mercer Shadow Minister (Homeland Security), (Assisted By Shadow Law Officers)

The old aphorism relating to any form of computer or intelligence work is, "Rubbish in, rubbish out." Unless we get it right from the first principles, the card and the register stand little chance of success. [Interruption.] I seem to have had the desired effect on my own Benches. [Laughter.] We are getting the chance to check the dentures of one of my colleagues, thereby establishing his identity beyond doubt. [Laughter.]

Photo of Robert Marshall-Andrews Robert Marshall-Andrews Labour, Medway

If I may leave terrorism for a moment and go on to the second claim made by the Government, concerning serious and organised crime. I have asked the Government on a number of occasions to provide one—just one—example of a crime detected in this country in the recent past that would have been stopped by an identification card. No single example has been provided to me. Has any example been provided in Committee or to the hon. Gentleman?

Photo of Patrick Mercer Patrick Mercer Shadow Minister (Homeland Security), (Assisted By Shadow Law Officers)

The hon. and learned Gentleman as usual puts his finger on it. I hope that my earlier quote from Interpol illustrates exactly that point. Nothing that is claimed for the card has been proved to my satisfaction.

The card claims much but in practice will deliver little. It changes with the wind. The Government sometimes see the card as being the cure-all to everything, a panacea across the piece. It will sort out crime and prevent terrorism. It will be an entitlement card without parallel. But this group of amendments exposes the card and the register for what they are; unworkable.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Clauses 1 and 2 contain the meat of the Bill, as was reflected in Committee by the exceptionally substantial debate that we had on them. I observe in passing that now they are on the Floor of the House, we are to be allowed one hour and seven minutes to do them justice.

As Patrick Mercer said, time and again the Government have damaged their own case by constantly seeking to oversell identity cards, presumably because of the extraordinary costs that will be involved in their introduction and operation. Just as one argument is knocked down, so it seems another has to be produced. We are told that it is about identity fraud and then that it is not; that it is about terrorism, and then that it is not; that it is about benefit fraud and then that it is not.

My concern is the same as that of the hon. Gentleman in relation to the underpinning of his amendments, although I have one or two detailed points where I disagree with him. I will come to them later, but my fundamental concern is that the Bill is exceptionally widely drawn. Nowhere is that more apparent than clause 1(4), which seeks to define those things that are considered to be necessary in the public interest.

The House will see that paragraphs (a) to (d) are fairly sensibly and reasonably drawn. Paragraph (a) says:

"in the interests of national security".

Paragraph (b) talks about

"the prevention or detection of crime"

—or as our amendment No. 24 would have it, "serious crime". Paragraph (c) says for

"the enforcement of immigration controls" and (d)

"enforcement of prohibitions on unauthorised working or employment."

So far, so good. But when one comes to (e), one finds the catch-all,

"securing the efficient and effective provision of public services."

It is not so much a question of what that contains, but what it does not contain. The provision gives the Government carte blanche to hold and use information in just about any way they choose. As later clauses reveal, in almost every instance the Government will be able to appoint themselves the sole arbiter of what constitutes the public interest in these matters.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs

Does my hon. Friend recall that I questioned the Prime Minister about this matter? Although the Labour-led Welsh Assembly voted against requiring the use of identity cards to access public services, the Prime Minister was not willing to give any indication that there might be an exemption for Wales. That makes me believe that the Government are hell bent on introducing the provision, and that they are not simply giving themselves the option to do so.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My hon. Friend raises an important point, and it is clear that there will be different modes of operation in different parts of the UK. He has highlighted the situation in Wales, but the Scottish Executive have already made their position clear. In the public services for which they are responsible—that is, health, education and policing, in the main—the Executive have stated that they have no wish to use identity cards. It seems, happily, that the influence of the control freaks in No. 10 Downing street lessens the further one gets from London.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

The hon. Gentleman is making a very persuasive speech. Is not his argument supported by the Select Committee report, which states, in terms, that the purpose provisions in clause 1 are too widely drawn? The report says that those provisions should be narrowly confined, and offers some recommendations in that respect.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is right, and his intervention allows me to explain why the concerns about the widely drawn nature of the purposes in clause 1 are important. The debate is not simply about the possession of an identity, but about how the Government have constructed their proposals. They intend to set up a register of the information provided, and then the Bill details how that information is to be used—when, where, and for what purpose.

In effect, the Bill establishes a personal footprint for each individual that the Government can access—apparently at any time and for any reason, just about —to find where people have been and what they have been doing. As I and others have said in the House before, the Bill redefines the relationship between the citizen and the state, or the individual and the Government. It seems to proceed on the assumption that, in some way, the people are accountable to the Government. My contention is that that should be the other way around—that the Government should be accountable to the people. If the Government need access to the personal footprint that I have described, they should provide a coherent and compelling reason.

Photo of Matthew Taylor Matthew Taylor Liberal Democrat, Truro and St Austell

My hon. Friend makes exactly the right point about how widely drawn are the powers of the state, as set out in clause 1. However, we know from the Cabinet Office leak that the Government also foresee that the information will be used by the private sector. Does my hon. Friend agree that a person's identity number and card may be required by a growing number of private-sector organisations, as validation of that individual's identity? As a result, those organisations will build up data around that number, and the Government may well be able to buy into that data. Is not this a system for allowing the collection of an almost infinite amount of information about individuals—by the Government, and by those who might try to access various forms of data networks about people? The latter may pay for that information, but they might also procure it illegitimately, by breaking into those data networks.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. Interventions should be brief, as this debate is very much time limited.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

There is very little that I need add to my hon. Friend's intervention, other than to say that he makes a good point about function creep. That becomes possible because the purposes are so widely drawn.

Government amendment No. 2 is unexceptionable. However, given the catalogue of examination that the Minister of State outlined earlier in response to the motion in the name of my hon. Friend Mr. Heath, it is remarkable that the Government should still feel it necessary to table their own amendments.

The Minister of State was pressed in Committee on clause 7, which is the mechanism by which identity cards may be made compulsory. I read press reports during the summer months which suggested that the Minister had accepted during a Home Office seminar that the so-called super-affirmative procedure was defective and unworkable. Is that the case? If so, why have the Government not tabled amendments to rectify the defects today?

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal 5:15 pm, 18th October 2005

I am one of those in the House who believes in identity cards. My problem with the Bill is that the Government have shown an infallible ability so to form it that it drives away from their support the very people whose support one would have thought that they could have gained.

The amendments go to the heart of the matter. Mr. Carmichael has rightly pointed out that with this Bill the Government have given themselves every possibility to do almost anything in any circumstances. Many of us who are not unhappy with the concept of an identity card are unhappy with the concept of a Government who give themselves powers like that. Governments have an insatiable desire for power and therefore will use it in ways that most of us will find unacceptable.

My hon. and learned Friend Mr. Garnier made the point that seems to me central to this issue. If we are to agree with the Government that we should have identity cards, we need to know three clear things. First, what restrictions on the use of identity information will the Government put permanently in place and what mechanisms will they use to do so? We need to know the scope of the legislation. These clauses show that the scope is in no way restricted. It is envisaged to be as wide as the Government think it should be at any particular time.

The second issue that the amendments raise is what the Government think that the identity card might do. I happen to think that there are certain areas in which it would be helpful and useful to have a unique register of everybody's name and address. It is possible to argue that that could be portrayed on a card. I happen to think the other way round from my hon. and learned Friend; I think that the register is more important than the card. Be that as it may, there are mechanisms by which this could be done. What the Government cannot do is to claim for identity cards things that are self-evidently not true. The Government in so doing are driving away people who might otherwise have been corralled. It seems to me that the Government are making a series of claims, hoping that one way or another they will pick up the support of all sorts of people whose support they would not otherwise have gained. In fact, the opposite is happening. As each of these claims is made and found wanting, people begin to ask whether the whole idea is a sensible one.

The third issue that the amendments raise is what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough referred to as "Will it work?" Unless we know its scope and what it is supposed to do, we can make no judgment as to whether this particular scheme—let alone the technology, which one cannot deal with on this group of amendments—will work. None of these things seem to me to be evident from the Bill. It is an inconvenience of the House that in these days of truncated debates and the significantly underused potential of Parliament, the only way in which we can get at these things is by tabling amendments such as this and asking for sensible responses. So I put three simple questions to the Minister. Will he put in the Library a list of the specific purposes of the Bill? What does he think he will be able to do after he has got it that he cannot do now? Will he, perhaps with a little narrative, describe incidents that could have been better dealt with if only he had had this particular equipment? That seems to me to be what any sensible person would do if they were running a business and thinking of spending a lot of money. They would ask how they could be in a better position and whether the solution would have been cost-effective if applied to their past actions.

Perhaps the Minister could explain the role of the identity card in the prevention of terrorism. I can see that it would be useful in circumstances in which someone claims to be Mr. Jones to check whether they are indeed that person. That is a satisfactory concept, but I cannot see how widely that could be used in the direct battle against terrorism. The Minister should tell us more about that.

I have always thought that it would be very helpful for people in this country to know that those people who claim benefits are entitled to them and not fiddling the system. I think that not for atavistic reasons, but because I happen to believe that benefits are an important part of a civilised society and people should not be besmirched because the system does not work very well. We have heard such contradictory views from the Government about how ID cards could be used against fraud, how much that might save and how many people might be involved, that it is difficult for any sane person to make a judgment. Many of us want to make a judgment, because we are not here for theological reasons only. Can the Minister give a definitive statement of how ID cards and the register will be useful in that area?

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Labour, City of Durham

Why does the right hon. Gentleman have a problem with clause 1(4), which clearly outlines the purposes of the Bill? With which of those uses of the Bill does he have a problem?

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

Well, clause 1(4) may outline the purposes of the Bill, but it is on such a broad canvas that it is like a Tintoretto painting, with many little figures. The Government have focused on a tiny part of the canal and said that they are concerned only about that bit, but they have painted all the rest in because it is pretty and because they might be concerned about that campanile at a later stage. That is a fanciful example, but perhaps it will cheer up those listening to the debate.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

My question for my right hon. Friend is in part a response to Dr. Blackman-Woods. When my right hon. Friend sounds out the Minister, as he is doing so clearly, he may wish to ask what aspect of government does not fall within the definition of

"securing the efficient and effective provision of public services".

That is included in the stated purposes of the Bill.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

My right hon. and learned Friend has underlined the point that my metaphor of a great painting is far too small. The Bill will enable the Government to use the ID card and the register to discover the number of times an individual has used a public library, if they decide that discovering that fact is in the national interest. The hon. Lady must understand that the clause would enable the Government to discover anything they like—probably not the number of times a person uses public lavatories, but that could be one of the examples.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

When my right hon. Friend asks the Minister to place that document in the Library, will he also ask him to place in the Library a draft of the 60 statutory instruments that the Bill will give the Secretary of State the power to produce?

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

My right hon. and learned Friend is quite right. Will my right hon. Friend also ask the Minister to produce, as the Government promised they would in Committee, the code of practice on penalties, which is referred to in clause 36? We are legislating in a vacuum, and it is essential that my right hon. Friend presses his point because, unless the detail of the Bill is got right now, the public will be at a loss.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

My hon. and learned Friend is, of course, absolutely right, but my difficulty in increasing the number of things that I want to ask the Minister to do is that I will reveal to the world that close-kept secret that there is no information about anything that is detailed enough for anyone to make a real judgment about the Bill. I am not saying this from any antagonistic position. I want identity cards—they are a good idea—but the Minister is making it quite impossible for anyone who is logically, sensibly approaching this matter to vote for the Bill, for we know nothing about all the key issues. Without that knowledge, how am I to reassure my constituents, whom I have always told that I want identity cards— I have always supported them—that this proposal does not run counter to everything else that I have ever told them?

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs

Will the right hon. Gentleman add a further request to the long list of questions about the intention? Will he ask the Minister to explain how the Government will guarantee that no one with a mind to corrupt and abuse the database can gain access to it and perhaps gain employment by doing so? Obviously, if there is corruption on the inside, the system falls apart. I suspect that the Government will not be able to give that guarantee.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

The Minister will have heard the hon. Gentleman's sensible proposition. The Minister has received a number of requests, so I shall leave him with an answer: he ought to think seriously about taking the whole thing out of the Government's control. It seems to me that the Bill would be acceptable only if it were entirely independently controlled and all these issues were decided not by the Government and not by the weight of government. Frankly, these decisions are too important to be made by people who are parti pris. For the Government to decide what they think is in the public interest when what they will decide is what they think is in their interest, which is a wholly different thing, seems to be too great a power for the House to give to the Government. Therefore, I ask the Minister, please, not only to answer my questions, but to seek a different format that will ensure that, in this the mother of Parliaments, we do not give away to the Government powers that no previous generation has ever been willing to give.

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

I apologise to those Opposition Members who still wish to speak, but this section of debate will conclude at a quarter to 6, and a lot of serious issues have been raised about the purpose of the scheme, so it is only right to address them in detail.

Clause 1, with which we are preoccupied, sets out the purpose of the national identity register, and I would tell Mr. Gummer that two very clear statutory purposes for the Bill are given in that clause: first, to provide a convenient method by which individuals can prove who they are—he recognised that he might indeed welcome that—and, secondly, to provide a secure and reliable method by which public bodies and others can ascertain identification and thereby better serve the public interest.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Opposition Whip (Commons)

I shall try to be briefer than I was in my last intervention. I thank you for allowing me some latitude, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The register will only work if there is a way to check that an individual belongs to the ID, so verification systems—perhaps using some form of scanner—will be needed. Does the Minister agree that, every time we embark on a plane flight, we will have to confirm who we are by using some form of system to verify the card itself?

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

I most certainly do. When the hon. Gentleman travels on an aeroplane, I think he will find that he has to carry identification with him. That is nothing new, but by moving to a highly secure means of identification we can be sure that the people sitting in aeroplanes are who they claim to be. That is one of the principal reasons why we are introducing the Bill.

The point that Opposition Members seem to be missing is that, although they may not like it, the running of society depends on identification. Every day, millions of transactions are carried out by public and private sector bodies to ascertain people's identity. It is directly in the interest of us all, as individuals and as citizens, that those checks be carried out to the highest possible standard and as efficiently as possible.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham 5:30 pm, 18th October 2005

The Minister is dealing with what is deemed to be in the public interest. Will he tell the House which aspects of government do not fall within the definition of

"securing the efficient and effective provision of public services"?

Most of us believe that it could extend to any function of government of every kind.

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

I know that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is assiduous in these matters and always reads the legislation, but perhaps I might refer him to paragraphs (a) to (e), subsection (4) of clause 1, where he will see clearly set out the purposes of the Bill and the functions for which we are introducing it. His answer is before him.

Photo of Mark Fisher Mark Fisher Labour, Stoke-on-Trent Central

The Minister referred to the fact that people should be able to prove who they are, and in answer to Mr. Ellwood cited the usefulness of passports in establishing people's identity before they went on a flight. The difference between a passport and an identity card, as far as I can work out, is that for a passport one's identity must be vouched for by a responsible person such as a doctor, magistrate or Member of Parliament. Will every person who registers for an identity card have to obtain an endorsement from an outside person?

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

That is not just for passports. Catching an internal flight in the UK requires a form of identification and the ID card would provide a useful means of doing that. As my hon. Friend knows, we are describing a system that would utterly change the method of applying for passports. It will involve moving to a system of application by interview, whereby the individual is present when they are enrolling their biometrics. That is the premise on which the scheme is being rolled out. That front-end system—the higher standard of identity check—will give my hon. Friend the guarantees that he seeks.

Photo of Richard Shepherd Richard Shepherd Conservative, Aldridge-Brownhills

I should be grateful if the Minister returned to the question asked by my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Hogg. He referred the Minister to paragraph (e) of subsection (4)—

"for the purpose of securing the efficient and effective provision of public services".

What falls outside that in the public interest? That was the question put to the Minister, but he merely referred us back to that paragraph. Will he please give a justification or an answer?

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

Across the public sector, bodies are performing identity checks day in, day out, be they the local council, the Criminal Records Bureau or the DVLA—any number of organisations. The point is that those checks are already being carried out, and if a higher standard of identity check can be introduced it must surely be in the interests of each and every one of us—[Interruption.] Does the hon. Gentleman want to listen to the answer? It is in the interest of each and every one of us that those checks be carried out to a higher standard than at present.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

I want to make progress to answer some of the points that Members have raised during the debate.

Let me make one thing clear to my hon. Friend Lynne Jones: it is not and never has been our intention to create an elaborate database that would hold detailed personal profiles for every individual. Rather, it is our intention to create a system that takes basic personal facts about each of us—name, address and date of birth—which are already held on databases, such as those for passports or the DVLA, and link them to a unique personal identifier, such as a fingerprint or an iris scan.

C

"... it is not and never has been our intention to create an elaborate database that would hold detailed personal profiles for every individual" If this is so, why does the Bill (in schedule 1 s.9) specify that the information stored in the National Identity Register will include, "particulars of every occasion on which information contained in the individual’s entry has been provided to a person"? That "audit trail" information will build up a...

Submitted by Chris Lightfoot Continue reading (and 1 more annotation)

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

I want to finish answering the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak.

The link between those basic facts and the unique identifier puts the individual citizen in control of the use of their data. They alone can put that personal stamp on those basic facts and they hold the key to their use. That is one of the main arguments for the system. It is a basic identification system, not the elaborate database about which my hon. Friend seemed to have concerns.

C

The implication here is that registration in the National Identity Register would be under the individual's control. This implication is false. Not only would the Bill create the power for the Home Secretary to force everyone to register, but it also creates a power (s.2(4) of the Bill) for information about...

Submitted by Chris Lightfoot Continue reading

Photo of Lynne Jones Lynne Jones Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak

Will my hon. Friend explain how the Government's proposals, which involve storing 10 fingerprints, facial biometrics and two irises on the national database, will achieve his objectives more effectively than the requirements of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, under which just a face and fingerprint are stored on a chip on a card that people carry?

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

My hon. Friend raises an important point. We had to take a decision on the extent to which biometrics would be collected when enrolment was carried out. We believe that it is right to ensure that it will not be necessary to bring people back for further enrolment two or more years after their initial enrolment. The combination of different biometrics will give the high standard of identification check that we want.

Photo of Stewart Hosie Stewart Hosie Shadow Spokesperson (Women), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

The Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic, of all bodies, has put together information about the use of multiple biometrics. Far from creating fewer false accepts and false rejects, the reverse can be the case in certain circumstances, so multiple biometrics do not necessarily lead to the results that the Minister wants. His assertion in reply to Lynne Jones was thus not correct, so will he comment on the fact that using multiple biometrics will not deliver the beneficial results that he wants?

C

Note that Burnham refuses to answer this fairly fundamental question.

More on multiple biometrics and error rates from John Daugman (inventor of the iris code), here:
http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/users/jgd1000/combine/combine.html

Submitted by Chris Lightfoot

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

We will proceed to a full technology trial if the Bill receives Royal Assent. In the interim, I refer the hon. Gentleman to the report by the National Physical Laboratory, which examined the matter in detail and concluded that biometric systems could be used in the way in which we propose. I also refer him to experiences in the United States, where such systems are already in widespread use. The technology is not new and coming to us only now, but established and used today throughout the world to prove people's identities.

Photo of Stewart Hosie Stewart Hosie Shadow Spokesperson (Women), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

The German Federal Parliament's Office of Technology Assessment warned that introducing biometrics on such a scale would be a "gigantic laboratory test" and that face recognition was known to fail. Other bodies throughout the world argue the case against what the Minister says.

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

The European Union has already agreed to move in the direction of requiring the widespread use of biometrics. The United States has also taken such a decision in principle, as has the International Civil Aviation Organisation, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak referred a few moments ago. It is up to the hon. Gentleman if he wants the British Government to stand back from that and thus ensure that British citizens have second-class passports that will not enable them to travel with freedom and convenience in the future, but Labour Members will not take that decision.

C

Note that ICAO standards require only the "facial biometric" (really a digitised photograph) on a computer chip in the passport. They do not require fingerprints and iris scans, and they do not require the building of a central register. Kali Mountford -- notably loyal and, I think, almost wholly silent in Committee -- misunderstands this later.

Submitted by Chris Lightfoot

Photo of Robert Marshall-Andrews Robert Marshall-Andrews Labour, Medway

The Minister said that it was not the Government's intention to create a vast body of information and that the Bill sets out what may be stored on the database. However, he is aware that Ministers will be enabled by secondary legislation to add to the categories of information on the database, which causes great concern to many of us. Will he comment on that and, especially, the report in today's edition of The Guardian that the Government will give an undertaking that that power could not be used? I do not know where that provision appears in the Bill, so I would grateful if the Minister dealt with the matter.

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

We do not have time to consider Government amendment No. 1, but I refer my hon. and learned Friend to it because it will give him the reassurance that he wants. Mr. Carmichael raised the legitimate point in Committee that clause 1(5)(g) suggested that personal sensitive data could be covered by the Bill, such as those on the police national computer. We have thus tabled Government amendment No. 1 to rule out the use of sensitive personal data, as defined by the Data Protection Act 1998, with which my hon. and learned Friend Mr. Marshall-Andrews will be familiar.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

I will press on, because I do not have much time.

Terrorism was raised by many Opposition Members. No Minister has ever claimed that the proposal is a silver bullet to deal with terrorism, but the scheme as conceived will provide the security services and the police with a useful tool, enabling them to tackle and identify individuals responsible for terrorism. Mr. Gummer asked me to give a definitive statement explaining why the measure is useful in tackling terrorism. I refer him to the head of the Security Service, who said:

"ID cards will make it more difficult for terrorists to operate."

We must listen to the security services, and we must take on board the points that they make. The right hon. Gentleman will remember better than me debates in the early 1990s about closed circuit television in which the same fears about a surveillance society and function creep were expressed. No one in this country can doubt the role that CCTV played in the aftermath of the London bombings.

Photo of Patrick Mercer Patrick Mercer Shadow Minister (Homeland Security), (Assisted By Shadow Law Officers)

I acknowledge what the head of the Security Service said, but where is the proof? Where is the evidence? Can the Minister point to an incident that was prevented at a certain time and place in a certain country because of the possession of such an identity card? Have things been improved?

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

The argument is clear. The main strength of the biometric system is that individuals can only register their personal details once, because they have only one set of biometrics to register. Terrorist networks around the world rely and thrive on the use of multiple identities. They use multiple travel documents and passports. Tackling that is one of the Bill's key strengths.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs

The Minister and the Government have failed to answer a fundamental question. Can they guarantee that the system is not open to corruption? If the Minister wishes to be taken seriously on the issue, can he give a 100 per cent. commitment that there is no opportunity for corruption within the system itself?

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

All afternoon we have heard from Liberal Democrat conspiracy theorists who seem to think that this is about creating great things that will be used to control people. However, is the hon. Gentleman confident that the system for issuing passports is as secure as it could be? If he does not accept the new system, how does he propose to make the passport system more secure?

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

I will not give way, but as the hon. Gentleman has raised the issue on many occasions I shall give him one instance of a serious crime that identity cards could help to prevent. Last week, on Tuesday 11 October, Metro revealed that a fraudster who created 130 false identities to swindle hundreds of banks out £1.1 million was jailed for five and a half years. Identity fraud is not a figment of our imagination—it is a real problem that affects more and more of my constituents and perhaps the hon. Gentleman's too. The issue is repeatedly brought to our attention, so it is right to take action against it.

Photo of Mark Fisher Mark Fisher Labour, Stoke-on-Trent Central

As we will not be able to debate Government amendment No. 1, will my hon. Friend explain the difference between a "registrable fact" and "information"? How does "information" differ from a "registrable fact"?

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

Government amendment No. 1 clarifies the definition of an identity card by means of a minor amendment. The information mentioned in clause 1 is qualified by the additional reference in Government amendment No. 2. That gives my hon. Friend the assurance that he seeks.

The points raised in the debate have been dealt with on many occasions by me and by my hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality—

It being quarter to Six o'clock, Mr. Deputy Speaker put the Question already proposed from the Chair, pursuant to Order [this day].

The House divided: Ayes 267, Noes 321.

Division number 57 Identity Cards Bill — Access to the National Identity Register

Aye: 267 MPs

No: 321 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Absent: 54 MPs

Absents: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

It being after quarter to Six o'clock, Mr Deputy Speaker then proceeded to put forthwith the Question to be disposed of at that hour.

Amendment made: No. 1, in page 2, line 20 [Clause 1], at end insert—

'(5A) But the registrable facts falling within subsection (5) (g) do 'not include any sensitive personal data (within the meaning of the Data Protection Act 1998 (c.29)) or anything the disclosure of which would tend to reveal such data.'.—[Andy Burnham.]