With this we may discuss Lords amendment No. 22 and Government motion to disagree.
The House debated the essence of this issue on Report on
We have always been clear that the identity cards scheme is being designed and is intended, eventually, to become a compulsory scheme for all UK residents, and that in the second phase of the scheme it will be a requirement to register, with a civil financial penalty regime for failure to do so. Throughout, we have also been equally clear that linking identity cards to the issue of designated documents is a central part of the scheme in the first phase. That will enable a sensible, phased introduction of identity cards.
Once passports and residence permits are designated, when British nationals resident in the United Kingdom, renew or apply for their residence permits they will be entered on the national identity register and issued with cards that will serve as ID cards. That approach is well known and will not come as a surprise to the House. When the Government issued our first consultation document about a card scheme in 2002, one of the options canvassed was a universal scheme linked to passports.
When we announced the decision in principle in November 2003, it was made clear that there would be a two-stage scheme and that the second stage would be compulsory. However, on the first stage, we stated in "Identity Cards: the Next Steps":
"By linking the card scheme to widely held identity documents most people will get a card conveniently and automatically as they renew an existing document".
That announcement in principle in 2003 was put into effect when we published the draft Bill, as long ago as April 2004, when we included the word "must" in clause 5(2). Yet again, we made it absolutely clear that, once designated, obtaining a passport would also involve being issued with an identity card.
It is also clear that, other than the biometrics—an important development in the whole security of card systems—no information will be required from an individual as part of that process that the state does not already hold in one form or another. To put the compulsory element of the designation of documents another way, it will be compulsory for information already held by the state to be placed on the national identity register. No new information will be required as part of that process.
As I understand it, a fully biometric passport that complies with European Union requirements should have a facial biometric and two fingerprints. However, as my right hon. Friend said at Question Time, he proposes to have up to 13 biometric elements stored on the national register. It is not correct to say that that information is required for the passport and that the Government would therefore necessarily have that information and the full biometrics.
My hon. Friend is correct in that the information is not required as part of the current EU passport regime—the fantasies of Mr. Cash are relevant in that respect. However, for a variety of reasons, all Governments are determined—it was set out in no less a source than the United Nations Security Council resolution last September—to move to a fully biometric scheme for passports. That is part of the overall world approach, which this Government strongly support, to the most secure system of biometrics to protect us most effectively in a wide variety of ways.
My hon. Friend's point is about biometrics for the passport scheme and not about the ID card scheme, although they are related. We believe, as a Government, that getting properly secure biometrics for the passport scheme is not only in our interests in this country but is part of our international obligations.
I invite the Home Secretary to be quite careful about this. I do not want him to mislead himself or anybody else. Is there not a difference between the international obligation and what the Government require? Under the international obligation, biometric information that can be read by a passport officer's machine appears on the face of the passport. What the Government require us to do is to provide biometric information on the passport that can be read by, and stored in, the national identity register. There is quite a difference of quality and principle that the Government keep eliding.
The hon. and learned Gentleman is right in one respect. We are in an evolving situation as far as the international requirements are concerned. That applies to the EU, the International Civil Aviation Organisation and the UN Security Council resolution. It is equally the case that many countries are evolving their own systems—whether they go for the number of biometrics that my hon. Friend Lynne Jones mentioned, for biometrics for all 10 fingers and thumbs or the 13 that we will have for our ID cards. It is also true that there are different states of decision in different countries on those points. All is evolving. However, both within the EU and in the dialogue between the EU and the United States that has explicitly addressed these matters, including in the G8 context, the overwhelming view is to move towards the most rigorous form of biometrics for fundamental documents such as passports and visas. That is the point that I am trying to make.
I have seen that report. If one considers different biometrics, one sees that there are different issues for different communities. The biometrics for the face, the iris and for fingerprints and thumbprints give rise to different issues in each case. However, as I know my hon. Friend will accept, the point is simple and straightforward. The more biometrics we have, the more reliable and fraud-proof is the system. For example, it is better to have biometrics for all 10 fingers and thumbs than it is to have them for one.
I made the point earlier that the non-biometric facts that will be required for the identity card will be broadly the same as those needed for passports, residence and immigration documents and other purposes. It is not the case that more information will be requested. In fact, less information will be required for the ID card than for some other purposes.
I thank my right hon. Friend for responding to our conversation last week in written form, which I received this morning. However, the letter says:
"We are designing the scheme in such a way that there is no direct access to the Register itself by organisations—Government or non-Government—who want to verify a card-holder's identity. Organisations will be able to use an identity verification service to verify basic identity information".
What is the difference between the register and the identity verification service?
I need to make it clear that the register will be the record of each citizen's biometrics and a limited amount of other data relating to them, such as name, sex and so on. It will be a basic database for each of those people. The service to which I referred in the letter to my hon. Friend would enable other agencies, whether governmental or non-governmental, to use the data for the purpose of verification. An organisation that wants to use the central data will work via a verification service, which was the distinction that I was trying to draw.
The Government's figures show that while £1.3 billion is lost due to fraud each year, identity-related fraud accounts for between £20 million and £50 million a year. That amount is considerably less than the £85 million cost of implementing the ID card system, as we established in Committee. The scheme will be an expensive, intrusive and unproven way of tackling ID fraud.
The hon. Gentleman raised that matter during previous stages of the Bill's consideration. We will debate costs when we consider Lords amendment No. 1. The most recent estimate of the cost of identity fraud throughout the country is £1.7 billion. That is a significant amount, so we must address the problem.
I know that the right hon. Gentleman wants to make progress, but will he answer a question? I am vexed that he does not entertain the possibility that storing the information centrally will create the opportunity for corruption and the abuse of information. What would he say to those of us who think that the concentration of data in itself will create a considerable temptation for organised criminals to hack into the information and thus institute other methods of fraud and ways of achieving identity theft?
As the right hon. Gentleman says, we can guarantee that.
Only one question needs to be asked about security: will the system that we are creating be more or less susceptible to fraud than the system that we have now? I argue strongly that the system that we are creating will be less susceptible to fraud, whether we are considering passports that are used fraudulently, or the variety of ways in which identity fraud is committed. Of course we will have to consider fraud under the new system, but we must compare the system that we are establishing with the existing system.
I shall make this intervention as constructively as I can. The simple truth is that the test is not simply whether the system will be better than that which we have now. Given that we will be spending a large sum, we must consider whether the system will be the best that might be available. Plenty of identity card systems do not challenge individual privacy or require massive central databases, but are far more secure than the system that the right hon. Gentleman proposes.
With the greatest respect to the right hon. Gentleman, I do not think that he is correct. The distinguishing aspect of the scheme is the move towards using fingerprint biometrics and other biometrics. To respond to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak, some 30 countries already intend to include fingerprint biometrics on their passports. As I said, the United States is increasing its programme. In my opinion it would be utterly foolish of us not to take advantage of the advances in biometrics to increase our security, and that is the intention behind the proposal.
We had a substantial discussion with the whole industry about our proposals to ensure that we work as best we can with the most up-to-date technologies. David Davis was right to say that the technology is fast moving. Many companies are involved—many British companies are in the lead, by the way—and we want to work closely with them. That is an intelligent course for us to follow.
My argument is that the ID cards system brings substantial benefits to both individuals and society and that the opt-out proposed by the Lords puts those benefits at risk. Focusing on passports and residence permits means that we can target a manageable number of people each year who will go through the process and minimise uncertainties that would otherwise apply to rolling out the scheme nationally. The benefits of the ID cards scheme will grow steadily as more people obtain their cards. By linking the process with the issue or renewal of a document such as a passport, which around 80 per cent. of the population already holds, there will be a manageable roll-out of the ID cards scheme. That is surely in the public interest. If those hon. Members who say that they are concerned about the cost of the scheme really do want to avoid excessive costs, they should accept the logic of combining the process of issuing ID cards with the issuing of passports or immigration documents.
In practice, of course, the process of obtaining a passport and an ID card will be combined in future, so issuing the two documents as a package will be just as convenient as applying for a biometric passport. When we introduce passports with fingerprint biometrics, the process of obtaining a passport and an ID card will be so similar as to make the need to combine the two quite obvious.
The Department has not made a systematic, rigorous assessment of the costs that my hon. Friend describes, but we have considered the issue in principle, to see what the overall situation would be. As he implies, if the amendment were passed, the costs would be greater because they would be shared among fewer people and the implementation of the whole ID cards system would be far less assured. If the amendment proposed by the Lords were passed, the effect on both the cost and the roll-out of the scheme would be serious, but detailed costings would take some months to clarify.
Is not the logic of the Home Secretary's argument that, because the cost would be shared by fewer people, there is therefore less desire for ID cards in the country than he suspects? Would it not make more sense to accept the Lords amendments and respect the rights of individuals to choose how quickly the scheme is rolled out and whether they will take part in it, and thereby make it truly voluntary?
I think that I addressed that argument earlier. We have set out from the beginning our intention to move to a compulsory scheme in two phases—I said earlier what compulsion means in this case.
Let me now deal with the designated documents. First, I confirm again that the Government's intention is to designate British passports issued to UK residents aged 16 or over, so that an ID card must be issued alongside a passport, as a package. Secondly, it is intended to designate residence permits and other immigration documents issued to foreign nationals resident in the UK for more than three months. Thirdly, we intend to issue stand-alone ID cards, but they would be issued on a voluntary basis under clause 8 and would not require the use of the designation power in clause 4.
Is not there a potential problem with the European convention on human rights if the Home Secretary imposes a requirement on a foreign national that is not imposed on a British citizen?
We believe that there is no problem of that type at all. The immigration documents that we are describing relate to people coming here on the basis of having to indicate their identity to gain residence permits. That is not only reasonable, as would be clear to anybody, but entirely works with the European convention on human rights and is compliant with it.
No, I want to make more progress and will give way in a moment, as I said.
We do intend to designate the passport. We do intend to designate residence permits and other immigration documents. We do intend to issue stand-alone identity cards, but on a voluntary basis, not a compulsory basis. As we have always made clear, however, we believe that the legislation should be flexible enough to allow for the possibility of designation of other official documents in the future. I have said that I would want to look at the possibility of designation of Criminal Records Bureau certificates in England and Wales. There may be a good case for designating those documents, but we would need to consider issues such as the impact on volunteers, and that would be for future consideration.
In the light of some of the recent publicity, I should make it clear that, along with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, I have looked actively at designating driving licences, but we have decided not to do so. The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency already uses the passport database to check, with consent, the identity of people applying for photocard licences. That is more secure for the DVLA and more convenient for individuals, who do not have to send their passport to the DVLA. In the same way, issuing driving licences to people with ID cards will be more secure and convenient, but we have no plans to require people to get an ID card before applying for a driving licence.
I should emphasis that, as my hon. Friend the Minister of State said, mandatory recall of paper driving licences is a measure to improve the security of driving licences and has nothing to do with ID cards. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport is considering the Government's position on the defeat in the House of Lords on the provision in the Road Safety Bill and will announce his intentions in due course.
I will give way in a second, as I said.
I need to make it clear that there will be no possibility of designating any document until the identity card scheme is introduced. The designation order will need to set out the exact details of the proposed class of document, with any exceptions, and will also need to specify the timetable for designation. Each designation order under clause 4 will need to be approved by both Houses of Parliament under the affirmative resolution procedure. It could not be done for any particular document, including all those that I have mentioned, without a very full opportunity for proper debate and scrutiny.
A number of my colleagues, in particular my hon. Friend Mr. Gerrard, have been concerned about the process of designating documents, and I hope that the procedure that I have set out makes clear the approach that we are following.
Mr. Gerrard made the point about residence permits and human rights. What the Home Secretary has not answered—it was not answered in Committee either—is how the proposal affects the 380,000 Irish citizens currently resident in this country who enjoy a protection as a result of a separate Irish-Anglo treaty that dates back some years.
On this specific issue, I have heard from senior members of the Irish Government that if we introduce ID cards they will have to introduce them. It will have to be on a compatible basis and there will have to be information exchange between the countries. Is that true?
I am not going to comment on what the right hon. Gentleman may or may not have been told by Ministers in the Irish Government. I will say, as I have said before, that we have had a very full discussion of those issues precisely to be able to clarify those points.
No document can be designated under clause 4 unless a designation order has been debated and approved by both Houses of Parliament. I should also make it clear at this juncture that there will be the opportunity for Parliament to debate the level of fees to be charged as the identity cards fee regime is also to be set in regulations, subject to the affirmative order procedure. All subsequent changes to the level of fees, apart from increases due to inflation, will be subject to the affirmative procedure, and will thus need the approval of both Houses. I hope that I have shown that it is essential that we have a clear and definite link between an application for a designated document such as a passport and an entry on the national identity register. That has always been our clearly stated policy.
There is bound to be concern among opponents of ID cards that if someone receives a passport or reapplies for one their details will be entered on the register. My right hon. Friend rightly said—some people may have overlooked this—that an affirmative order is necessary. However, given that there would be a limited debate if such an order were made, does he not accept that there is a need for a wider debate when the measure returns to the Lords, bearing in mind the principle of the matter and its crucial importance for many of us? He has accepted the need for primary legislation on compulsion, but could he go a little further than the Bill's existing provisions?
I am glad that my hon. Friend accepts that an affirmative order is needed if any document is to be designated. There will be an opportunity for debate in the House on those questions. It will take considerable time to designate any document, so the Government would wish to announce such a proposal in advance with the aim of ensuring full debate in both Houses. I am ready to facilitate such a debate, and it is a perfectly reasonable request for the hon. Gentleman to make. I can assure him that we would seek to facilitate debate on all those matters. While it is important that Parliament has the opportunity to address them, people must accept that the key point in relation to passports, residence permits, immigration documents and the Criminal Records Bureau check is that the amount of information given by the individual to the state would be the same as it is now. It is not a question of new information coming online for the state—it is a question of putting that new information, with its biometric assurance, on to a national identity register so that it can work more effectively. Individuals will therefore not give more information to the state than they do at present. That is an important point to grasp.
If identity cards are introduced, as has been suggested, will my right hon. Friend confirm that Irish citizens living in this country will not need to have any form of ID whatsoever?
No, I am not saying that. The Bill applies to everyone who is legally resident in this country, including Irish citizens. Once it is compulsory to register, Irish citizens resident here would be obliged to register. The common travel area is unaffected in principle by that definition, although, as I told the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden, a series of practical questions arise that are subject to active discussion in those circumstances. There is no requirement or need for the Irish Government to introduce an ID card system because of what our Government do—it is for the Irish Government to make their own decisions.
Following his contact with the Irish Government, the right hon. Gentleman suggested that they would actively consider whether it would be wise to introduce a card system if we did so. I am sure that they would do so in such circumstances, but the key issue is how properly to share information. Apart from any other consideration, there are serious political issues that need to be tackled very carefully.
I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's generosity. As he will know, of 45 clauses in the original Bill no fewer than 25 provided for order-making powers. He has celebrated the fact that the Government will require the use of the affirmative procedure in many instances in future, and he is perfectly entitled to do so. However, as it is vital that our proceedings are intelligible to outside observers, will he put on the record something that we in the Chamber know? If there is a debate on the affirmative procedure, that does not mean a debate on the Floor of the House. It means a debate upstairs, in a small Committee compromising no more than 30 Members and often substantially fewer. It is important that the public should not—inadvertently, of course—be misled.
Having participated in many such debates with the hon. Gentleman I know how much he enjoys talking in Committee, often at length, on the issues involved. I believe that he does so in the knowledge that they will be reported and noticed outside.
To pursue the question asked by Mr. Hollobone about access by foreign countries to the register, what concerns me most about the Bill and the database is the issue of who will have access to it and who will give approval for that access. Is it possible for the intelligence services of a foreign country, such as the USA, ever to have access to the database?
As I said a moment ago, no—perhaps my hon. Friend did not hear that answer. That is not the way in which the system will operate, and what he envisages simply could not happen. There is a clear case for the House to disagree with the Lords amendments, so I urge it to disagree with Lords amendments Nos. 16 and 22.
May I begin by saying that I am sorry that the Prime Minister cannot be here today? I doubt that his absence will have as great an influence on the votes tonight as his previous absence, but at least the Home Secretary and I can draw some pleasure from the fact that the phrase, "Detained in South Africa" has a nicer tone today than it did 20 years ago.
I wish to discuss the national identity register much more than the piece of plastic or the biometric attached to identity card. The rather arcane subject of this debate is designation. In practice, it is the most controversial and, indeed, the most important debate that we shall hold today, because it will determine whether the ID card scheme is covertly rendered compulsory or not. In 2005, under the heading, "Strong and secure borders," page 52 of the 111-page Labour manifesto said:
"We will introduce ID cards, including biometric data like fingerprints, backed up by a national register and rolling out initially on a voluntary basis as people renew their passports."
I heard what the Home Secretary said about consultation papers and so on, but any reasonable member of the public would deduce that they could choose whether or not to have an ID card when they renewed their passport. That is a perfectly reasonable conclusion to draw, but it is the opposite of what the Government intend. To justify what this Bill does, the Labour manifesto should have said: "We will introduce ID cards, including biometric data like fingerprints, backed up by a national register and rolling out initially on a compulsory basis for a progressively larger portion of the population as people renew their passports." That is the truth of today's proposals.
Faced with that fact, Baroness Scotland, speaking on behalf of the Government, tried to claim that passports are voluntary. That is not the case if someone's work takes them abroad, nor if their parents live abroad, nor if their spouse or partner is from an another country. Nor is it the case if their children travel abroad, fall sick or get into trouble. It is a novel interpretation of "voluntary" if the price of a foreign holiday is a requirement for inclusion in the national identity register. The Lords therefore amended the Bill, quite properly in my view, to remove that creeping compulsion, and make inclusion on the register optional when someone receives or renews a passport. That is what the Government are seeking to reverse, for reasons to which I shall return.
The Government may ask why that should be voluntary. If people are already getting a passport, what is the reason for turning down an identity card? There are many good reasons for not wanting to be on the national identity register, which involves a large number of pieces of data about each individual being put on a single Government database, many of them the access keys for other Government databases. That is the important point: it is a central database with access keys effectively to all the other Government databases.
It is disingenuous of the Home Secretary to say, "We've already got all those." One of the transitions that has taken place over the past several years under the Government, and to a small extent under the previous Government too, is the removal of barriers to the transfer of information around Government. Those barriers were a protection of the liberties of the individual, and now they have gone. Many have gone for good reason—to make the Child Support Agency work, to stop terrorism, and so on—and the Bill will accelerate that process.
I ask the House to forgive me for a political point, but it is one that I care about very much. After the way the Government treated Martin Sixsmith, Pam Warren, Rose Addis and others, seeking information about them and using it to destroy reputations, I would not trust them with data about my life, let alone anyone else's.
The right hon. Gentleman has spoken about bringing together different databases and his concerns about that. Can he give me an example of two pieces of data that are currently held on separate databases that he does not want brought together, and why?
I shall use the examples that I was discussing. When Pam Warren, the rail safety campaigner, was a thorn in the side of the Government, a special adviser, I think, was known to say, "Let's look into her political background, her sex life and other such things." [Interruption.] A medical database can give all sorts of information—visits to clinics, visits to gynaecologists and the like. I shall be happy to take an intervention from the Home Secretary, if he wants to tell me that in due course it will not be possible to access medical databases through the system.
When people set about trying to create an embarrassing story about somebody, the more detail and the more data they get, the better. Experts in the area have spoken to the official Opposition, and I suspect to the Liberal party as well, of their concern that the audit trail will be loaded on to the database—in other words, every point of access on the database will be logged and recorded. If those on the Government Front Bench want to challenge that as untrue, I am happy to take an intervention. No. Okay.
I listened with great interest to the hon. Gentleman's whipped speech. I have had fun before with the Whips' plants on the Government Benches. He is clearly a new addition to that group. I shall give way in a moment.
In the run-up to the debate there was an independent report about the cost and technical capability of the proposed systems—an independent report by the London School of Economics. [Interruption.] I expected hon. Members to groan. The Government—and, to my surprise, the Home Secretary—have been attacking the individuals who drew up that report. As a result, Howard Davies, the head of the LSE, wrote to the Government saying, "You are wrong to attack individuals who wrote the report. Sixty different people wrote it. It was peer reviewed. It was written by experts on various aspects of ID card technology." I will return to their views.
Will the right hon. Gentleman make clear what the fine would be, as prescribed in the schedule, if a special adviser inappropriately and outwith the legislation accessed the sort of information that he suggested?
Of course such a person would be fined if he were caught, but one of the problems with the proposal is that high volumes of data would be travelling round the system, and it is not good enough to say that there would be a small fine.
Let us assume that people do not care about their privacy. Let us assume they believe, as the hon. Gentleman does, that the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary, Mr. Alastair Campbell and a legion of special advisers are all saints. Let us imagine they believe that. There are still good reasons not to want to be on the register. Let us go through them. First, there is the price.
The hon. Gentleman likes to make his name on economics. I will give way to him after this section.
Even on the Government's figures, the price of passports for a family of four would rise from £134 to £372. On the LSE's figures, which I trust more, the cost could be as high as £300 per person or more than £1,000 for a family of four—a plastic poll tax that the Government must fear will lead no one to volunteer for the system.
The right hon. Gentleman is much more experienced than I in the House. He is basing his case on an allegation that he made earlier in his speech, that a former special adviser tried to gain access to the privileged details of someone's sex life through Government machinery. If he has evidence of that allegation, he should put it on the table. He should not make such allegations on the Floor of the House under parliamentary privilege.
This is the public domain. I do not know what the hon. Gentleman was doing when he was at the Treasury. Perhaps he did not read any newspapers in the past few years. That would explain quite a lot about his political performance.
Let us return to the subject of the debate. Even if people believe that the Government are well intentioned—they may be—
Since there are only six pieces of personal information on the national identity register—name, sex, date of birth, place of birth, nationality and address—how would the collection of those data, which are already collected for passports, make it any easier or more difficult for the kind of revelations described by the right hon. Gentleman to be made?
The primary concern is about a piece of data giving access to other databases—for example, driving licence number or national insurance number. Such pieces of information are the access keys to other databases. I shall return to that in detail, because there is expert evidence that causes concern among people who know a great deal about that.
Earlier, in Home Office questions, the Home Secretary made the dubious claim that the Passport Agency has been a tremendous success, which was sort of reiterated in an unqualified way by the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee. The Home Secretary must have far different criteria for success from me and the rest of the country, who have seen many millions of our money squandered on that. It overran significantly and led to great inconvenience for a large number of people.
As I said to the right hon. Gentleman, four Government agencies have seen projects with a total budget of nearly £9 billion record spectacular failures, racking up a combined overspend of £33.9 billion. Even simple databases are often beyond the Home Office. Why should we imagine that it is capable of setting up the very complex register required by the Bill in an acceptable and workable way? If it goes wrong, that may manifest itself in problems and delays in getting the designated document. How much longer will it take to get a passport if we add the ID card requirements? Once we have renewed our passports, we are required to keep the Government informed of any changes. We will have to tell the Government every time we change our address, on pain of a fine of £1,000, which is quite a lot of money.
I have been listening to the right hon. Gentleman's argument and he makes the point about the alleged unreliability of Home Office IT projects. Does he agree that in fact the process being outlined for what is effectively an evolutionary process for putting data on a database is the proper and valid way to proceed in order to ensure that all procedures are tried and tested before we have the debate on compulsory registration, and that these processes can inform that debate? Should he not therefore be supporting the Government?
The hon. Gentleman makes a decent point in truth. A large database should be introduced on an evolutionary basis and slowly. However, that could be done on a much more steady basis with a voluntary system. The point here is the strategic problem of the database itself, but I will come back to that in a moment because it is a serious point to take on.
There is also the question of inaccuracy. The Government have tried to persuade the public of the value of an identity card, but they have not considered the consequences if there are erroneous records. Many hon. Members have dealt with personal disasters that have befallen constituents when some data held about them have been wrong. As the Select Committee Chairman will know, the Home Office cannot even ensure that the Criminal Records Bureau database is accurate. At one point two thirds of it was in error, and at the last check it was one third. Those are serious errors in what should be an absolutely accurate record. So what chance with a 40 million person database? So there are many major problems even before one considers the hundreds of thousands of people who will be the victims of false positive or false negative biometric tests, as has been clear from the studies done.
Finally, there is the most important question about the whole issue—the insecurity of the system. The Government have made, in a way properly, much of the issue of identity theft, particularly with regard to terrorism. Yet their proposal—a point I referred to earlier—is to gather the access keys to virtually every Government database in the national identity register, put them on one large computer and then create many thousands of direct access points to that computer. They will have created the most attractive possible target for every fraudster, terrorist, confidence trickster and hacker on the planet. Those people will be able to lift data out and put viruses and false data in.
If the Pentagon and Microsoft cannot keep hackers from penetrating their mainframes, what chance the Home Office? Speaking about the scheme, Microsoft's national technology officer has said that a central identity database could worsen the very problems that it was intended to prevent, such as terrorism and identity theft. He said that
"ministers should not be building systems that allow hackers to mine information so easily."
So, far from protecting the public, the Government will put the individual citizen at risk by creating a culture of complacency that is based on an ill-designed and ill-thought-out scheme.
Incidentally, this is yet another area where the Government mounted a mendacious attack on the independent LSE report. I will deal with that in detail because it is rather important. The section of the report that highlights the very serious security flaws in the proposed system was written not by an antagonist of the identity card system, but by somebody who favours identity cards, Dr. Brian Gladman, the ex-technical director of NATO, who had an eminent career in the British military ensuring the security of our military computer systems. He himself has said:
"the UK ID cards programme as now envisaged will create safety and security risks for those whose details are entered into the system."— that from an avowed supporter of ID cards.
I have listened carefully to the right hon. Gentleman's speech and he has made a series of arguments that have not been easy to follow, but as far as I can see, almost every one of them is equally an argument against the Home Office running a passport system using a computer on which identities are stored. I struggle to understand why he is against ID cards, but in favour of passports. His main point seems to be that passports are compulsory, so if ID cards are applied to people with a passport, they will become compulsory too. But is he really saying that passports are compulsory?
I am afraid that I do not take responsibility for the hon. Gentleman not being able to understand something. It is as simple as this, and if he listens he may understand. There is a national identity register. It is a central database system. It has many thousands of access points around the country. It has to do so because that is the way it works. It is different from most other identity card systems around the world. The compulsory ones are largely localised databases, not national, and that is why they cost only about £4 a head, not the sort of cost that this system will engender when we see it.
In a moment of frankness last year, the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality admitted that the Government had exaggerated the value of ID cards in the fight against terrorism. He was very honest, he always is, and I give him credit for that. But as Dr. Gladman suggests, the truth may be far worse. The creation of the national identity register may create a mechanism that will actually allow terrorists to operate under the radar more effectively, undetected until their plans come to fruition. All of those are good reasons for individual citizens not to want to put their details on the national identity register.
Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the whole purpose of having a clean identity base is to ensure that once someone's identity has been verified by taking the biometric, that biometric can then never be used by anyone else? If someone takes someone's identity to begin with, they would have to continue with that identity for the rest of their lives. Therefore, the purpose of a clean identity base nationally is to achieve what the Conservative party paraded as its policy before the election, namely, an understanding of who is in the country, who is entitled to work, who is entitled to services and to ensure that those who are not, are precluded from working, drawing down on free services or being involved in other such ventures. Is that not the case?
The right hon. Gentleman makes a point that he adheres to honestly and straightforwardly, but on which we differ, and that is that it is possible for the proposed system to be entirely clear and to have perfect integrity. When we were considering the early stages of this when he was still Home Secretary, I went to see the Metropolitan police, at that point under Sir John Stevens—I know a favourite of his—and I talked to him and all his deputy commissioners about their interest in the system. I put to them a question that I subsequently put to his previous advisers, to the Cabinet Office advisers, and to the briefers who talked to us about this at various stages. The question was this: how will somebody be prevented from putting a virus into one of the many thousands of access points in the system to change a piece of data, for example, relating to me, by inserting a little programme that says that every time a question is asked about me, answer yes?
There are many with the name David Davis. That would be a major disruption for the entire country of Wales. But the simple point was that we received no answer and we still do not have one. That is the point that the Microsoft specialist in this area has made: that it is a very vulnerable exercise to create what he called a honeypot for fraudsters, conmen, thieves, terrorists—
The second point with regard to creating a clean database is that, as the right hon. Gentleman will know, whoever creates it will have to have some originating documents. One of our concerns about this was the prospect that people would come in from mainland Europe and have three months clear, without doing anything, but even if they did nothing for three months, they might come in with documents that were cleared in another part of Europe that is perhaps a little less careful than we are. I will not insult any particular country by picking it out, but they do exist and the right hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do who they are.
Earlier today, we heard concerns about the common travel area and the Irish Republic, and although we do not know what the outcome will be, that issue represents a 5 million-person hole in the system. Given the value of corrupting the system, the size of the system and the fact that all the data will be in one place, people will try to corrupt the system and—I hate to say this—the likelihood is that they will succeed. The right hon. Gentleman has asked a good question, but his argument is not right.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the disproportionate basis on which people from different communities are likely to be stopped, searched and therefore have their information accessed on the database is another good reason not to introduce such a database? And does he know whether the Minister has conducted a proper race impact assessment and, if so, have the proposals been changed?
I am not aware that such a race impact assessment has been conducted. The hon. Lady is right that the system will be disproportionate in a variety of interesting ways, and it will disproportionately affect minority communities in some respects. Early adopters on the database are likely to be the least risky people. A person who poses a risk to the country at large will not want to sign up for a passport or any other documentation, if they can avoid doing so. For example, an illegal immigrant would clearly not want to sign up for such documentation, and many others would take the same approach.
It looks like the system will not bite for the best part of a decade, so it will not do any good for the best part of a decade. Why are the Government breaking their manifesto pledge to make the first stage voluntary and insisting on this covert, creeping compulsion? The answer is simple: they know that this expensive, cumbersome system will never be popular once it is up and running, and they will therefore contrive every method possible to ensure that the massive majority of the population are already signed up, whether they like it or not, before the question of compulsion is put before Parliament again. Whether the method involves a super-affirmative order or whether it involves primary legislation, 70 to 80 per cent. of the population will be in the system before we re-examine the matter, which will be presented as an inevitable development.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is a question of not only numbers signed up, but money spent? Will he accept that the Government, who should be candid enough to acknowledge this fact, are seeking to create a ratchet whereby so much money is spent—wisely or unwisely; for good or ill—that the point will come when Ministers have the temerity to argue that not proceeding to compulsion would waste that money?
My hon. Friend is exactly right. The Government want us to face an argument of inevitability. They will say, "We have got a huge sunk cost. The vast majority of the population is on the system already—why not make it everybody?" That will seem eminently practical and sensible, but the benefits will not have accrued, because, as Ministers know, if the ID cards system is going to do many of the things that the Government claim, it must be compulsory—carrying an ID card will probably have to be compulsory, too, but we can address that point in five years' time.
Passports will ensure that some 80 per cent. of the population is on the register in a decade. I was mildly surprised by the Home Secretary's remarks about driving licences, because the Government tried to take the power to recall all driving licences in the Road Safety Bill. The Home Secretary has said that that was not to allow further designation for ID cards, and I must believe him, but the Lords did not believe him, and they blocked the measure. That is not an issue now, although it might have been, but it is another reason not to allow the Government the right to enforce this creeping compulsion.
There is a final, serious matter of principle. The way in which the Government have gone about trying to deliver this Bill is of a piece with what they have done to other hard-won rights of the British people. The ID card will make no difference to serious security issues for at least a decade, if ever, and the difference may not be positive, too. Before then, this House will make a serious and considered decision about compulsion. Let us not allow ourselves to discover at that point that we have inadvertently already made that decision. Let us not discover too late that we have sleepwalked into the surveillance state. Let us protect the British citizen's right to choose, and this House's eventual right to decide. Let us reject the Government amendment this afternoon.
"For most people, to travel abroad and to drive are fundamentals. It cannot be argued that these would be given up voluntarily. To describe the first phase of the Government's proposals as 'voluntary' stretches the English language to breaking point."
Ministers have got themselves into a little bit of unnecessary difficulty through that choice of word.
In reality, people must accept that if they want a passport, they will have to go on to the national identity register, and the question is whether that is justifiable. As a supporter of ID cards and the national identity register, it seems to me that that approach is right and sensible. It would be nonsense to go through the entire process of collecting one set of biometric data and storing it with all the relevant background information for the purpose of issuing a passport, and then to run an entirely separate exercise in parallel to collect slightly different biometric data and store them on a different identity register in order to have an ID card system. Running the two systems together will be far more convenient for the citizen, and it makes much more sense in terms of building a system that has integrity and security. Furthermore, it will certainly be far more cost- effective. Moving towards ID cards and a national identity register means that using passports as a designated document is the sensible way forward.
To be fair, the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden spent most of his speech attacking the principle behind the measure rather than the use of the word "voluntary". He attempted to argue that we should not require people to go on to the national identity register as part of the process of obtaining a passport because the risks posed by the national identity register are so immense that it is unjustifiable to ask people to go on to it. That basic contention lies at the heart of the entire debate about ID cards, but those fears are misplaced.
The scheme's opponents have failed to make substantive arguments. I know that it is slightly bad form to quote one's own intervention and the response to it, but I shall do so on this occasion. When the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden made a powerful point about the dangers of bringing different databases together, I asked him to name two pieces of data that are kept separately and that he thinks it would be dangerous to bring together. Hon. Members will have noted that he could not name two pieces of data that we should not put together in one place. He mentioned medical records and criminal records, which have nothing to do with ID cards, and names and national insurance numbers are stored together on plenty of databases. He could not establish what would go wrong if two particular pieces of data were stored together.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the register will contain extra detail that is not currently held on other databases, such as the footprint of questions put to the new database and when someone last went to a doctor? It will also contain NHS numbers and criminal record numbers, which will be taken from one database and put on another.
When the right hon. Gentleman raised that point, I was dealing with amusing heckling. I shall take up his point in a way that may embarrass my party, but never mind. A previous Chancellor—he is now Lord Lamont—became known as our "flexible friend" because of one or two pieces of data in relation to a credit card. The simple point is that it allows fishing expeditions, which people undertake if they are trying to embarrass somebody or to find something that puts them in a difficult position. The easier those fishing expeditions are, the more dangerous it is to the privacy of the individual.
Let me say in passing that two of the suggestions made by Opposition Members about what would on the database are incorrect. The right hon. Gentleman says that there will be fishing expeditions. That is to assume something unjustifiable—that nothing in the law that we are being invited to pass, nothing in the system of regulation, and nothing in the system of oversight can ever be expected to work. He conjured up an image of huge numbers of individuals with a right of access to the database. First, that is not true. Secondly, those people who will be allowed access to the database for the purposes of crime prevention, for example, would be able to do so if they were not able to access that information in another form. Given that all the information is already on a Government database and can be accessed under existing crime-fighting powers, the Bill gives no significant increase in access to the people about whom the right hon. Gentleman is worrying.
The only new issue that arises is that of the audit trail about an individual registration. That would be subject to exactly the same controls that exist on access to information that is already on the Government database. Throughout this debate, not only today but previously, I have struggled to understand exactly why access to that audit trail by proper and regulated authorities for the purposes of crime prevention is seen as massively detrimental to the interests of the individual. It is not; in fact, it is just as likely to be of value to the individual. Let us take as an example the hypothetical situation of a Chancellor of the Exchequer who had been accused of shopping in Thresher's when he wished to say that he had been in no such place. In those circumstances, the individual would have had access to the audit trail and been able to prove that he had been nowhere near Thresher's on that occasion. The audit trail is of far more advantage to the individual than to any other authority.
That is right, with the exception that is always there in law of the detection and prevention of crime, which is subject to its own specific regulation and oversight. It is well established in this House, and has been on many occasions in relation to many sources of information, that we have given the police and the security services access to that information for the purposes of fighting crime and defeating terrorism. The Bill introduces no new principle and no new threats to the individual.
My right hon. Friend is going through the arguments in a cogent way that will convince many people. We may be able to introduce more and more safeguards into the system through encryption and so on, but the key issue on legislation of such importance is to ensure that we have the confidence of the British public. We can do that in two ways—by putting it to them in a general election in which they can vote for that system, or by having them buy into the system through personal decisions. When we put it to them in a general election, they voted for a voluntary system. The Bill does not allow them to have that, and the only way in which we can give it to them is by an individual decision on a voluntary basis, as the amendment suggests.
As my hon. Friend knows, manifestos are funny things. I thought that I had read the education section fairly carefully until I read the education White Paper. One is never quite sure what is really in the manifesto until a few months later.
It has been pretty clear throughout that the Government intended to link the issuing of ID cards and the establishment of a national identity register to passports. That has never been a secret. It was clear at the time of our Select Committee report, when we were working on the assumption that driving licences would also be included. There has been no deception of the public. No danger is brought about by bringing the data together.
I should like to make a little progress.
Furthermore, no significant danger has been introduced by access to audit trails, given that that is supervised. The third question is whether the database can, by virtue of its very existence, be hacked into by people trying to get a list of identities that they can use to mimic or fake them in some way. Of all the issues in the debate, that needs to be taken the most seriously. When our Committee heard a wide variety of technical evidence on these questions, I was convinced that there are no insuperable or unknown technical obstacles to designing the database in such a way as to make it free from such attack. There will be a huge responsibility on Home Office Ministers and their team to get those technical questions right, but it is an entirely resolvable problem.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the fundamental assumption that underlies the errors in people's conclusions about this is that there is two-way traffic? From the majority of verification points, people do not have access to the data in the central database. They are able only to submit data about the individual concerned to the central database and get back a yes or no confirmation as regards their identity. It is wrong to conclude that those access points create weakness in the security of the system.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. To listen to some speakers, one would think that the national identity register will run live, rather like national rail inquiries on the internet, so that one can go in and access information. That is not how it will operate. There will not be lots of live access points with people interacting with the system and being able, for example, to get viruses into it.
It would be possible to say, "For the elimination of all doubt, let's not do this." That leads to the conclusion that it would be better not to have a Revenue and Customs computer or any other type of computerised system that could allow for hacking and destruction. The gains of this system, to our society and to individuals, vastly outweigh the risks that can be identified.
Is it not an heroic act of faith to suggest that few, if any, weaknesses can be attributed to the likely design of the system? The history of IT systems in the past 20 to 30 years is one of determined and ingenious individuals circumventing and overcoming such low obstacles as might prevent their being hacked into. That will not give much reassurance to potential Winston Smiths.
I am one of those—I am sure that there are many others in this House—who carries out most of his banking transactions on the internet. The risks to individuals and society of having any type of internet exchange of financial information are vastly greater than anything to do with a national identity register, yet we have not banned internet banking. The vast majority of problems have arisen from individuals volunteering their own information to fraudsters. The existence of a huge variety of very sensitive internet applications that are used with great confidence across the world, day in, day out, should give us the confidence to believe that this important project can be delivered and will work.
I begin by picking up a point that Mr. Denham made. I hope that I do not misrepresent him when I say that I understood him to argue that all the information exists on various Government databases and it is therefore not objectionable to bring it together, and that exceptional access to it would be allowed only for the prevention and detection of crime. If I have misrepresented him, he can intervene—he does not wish to do that, so I presume that I have not.
I have never been one to allow the facts to get in the way of a good rant, but when I listened to the right hon. Gentleman I had occasion to examine the terms of the Bill. Clause 1(3) sets out the statutory purposes for the maintenance of the national identity register, including:
"the provision of a secure and reliable method for registrable facts about such individuals to be ascertained or verified wherever that is necessary in the public interest."
The public interest is defined in subsection (4). It includes
"the purposes of the prevention or detection of crime".
However, it also includes
"the interests of national security . . . the purposes of the enforcement of immigration controls . . . the purposes of the enforcement of prohibitions on unauthorised working or employment; or"— the widest example—
"the purpose of securing the efficient and effective provision of public services."
It is difficult to imagine what would not be covered under the latter.
The hon. Gentleman is not distinguishing between the elements of the Bill that allow access to audit trails without the individual's permission—crime fighting—and other aspects, under which individuals can use their identity cards, for example, to identify themselves to use a public service. It is dangerous to run the two elements together as though they are the same.
The right hon. Gentleman cannot get away from the basis on which access is to be administered. It clearly goes beyond what he outlined.
My right hon. Friend Mr. Denham made a comparison with internet banking. That is entered into on a voluntary basis, with a voluntary acceptance of potential risk. Registration will not be done on a voluntary basis and the acceptance of risk, which could be dramatic, is not voluntary.
The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point, to which I cannot add. Given the constraints of time, I do not intend even to try. However, he brings me neatly to my first substantive point, which deals with compulsion.
"We seek to replace compulsion by voluntarism. Citizens should not be forced to have ID cards. Compulsion is far too often resorted to by the modern state. That comes from an intensely managerial culture in which regulation rules. That sits uneasily with fundamental rights such as privacy and voluntarism. This Bill is an authentic clash between such rights and managerial efficiency."—[Hansard, House of Lords, 23 January 2006; Vol. 677, c. 957.]
That outlines well the divide between the Government and us on the amendment.
I must also reinforce the point of David Davis about the Labour manifesto commitment, which is worth reading into the record. It states:
"We will introduce ID cards, including biometric data like fingerprints, backed up by a national register and rolling out initially on a voluntary basis as people renew their passports."
The Home Secretary has already accepted today that the process of designating documents, especially passports, brings with it an element of compulsion. That is why the Government want to include the word "must" in the Bill, while we believe that it should be "may". I do not understand how the Government can square that circle or perceive their comments today as anything other than a blatant breach of their manifesto commitment.
Approximately 85 per cent. of the population hold passports. If we are to link the identity register and identity cards with the renewal of passports, when we pass the second Bill—which we shall eventually be allowed to discuss—there will be, as John Bercow said, an irresistible momentum behind compulsion. The argument will be presented that we already hold the information and that it would therefore be such a waste if we did not move to compulsion. The designated documents mean compulsion by the back door.
I am worried by the way the Government have tried to conflate the sensible case for biometrics for passports—when we debated the matter in Committee, we stressed that we did not object to that—and the use of biometrics for identity cards. There are several important distinctions to be drawn. First, passports will hold considerably fewer biometrics than are proposed for identity cards. Passports will not be subject to the same footprint through the database that is to be attached to the national identity register. A much wider range of information will be held under schedule 1 on the identity register than that held in relation to a passport.
Schedule 1 provides for "personal information", including name,
"other names by which he is or has been known . . . date of birth . . . place of birth . . . gender . . . the address of his principal place of residence in the United Kingdom . . . the address of every other place in the United Kingdom where he has a place of residence."
The "identifying information" includes the biometrics and the photograph. Provision is made for "residential status" and no fewer than 13 "personal reference numbers", which include
"any driver number given to him by a driving licence".
Surely that cannot be described as akin to the limited information that is held in relation to a passport.
The hon. Gentleman begins citing case law, but I shall resist his blandishments.
The Government sought to justify the measure by claiming that it will enable us to catch up with other European Union countries. Twenty other EU countries have ID cards. In 10 countries they are compulsory, and in the other 10 they are voluntary.
Is the hon. Gentleman as shocked as me that, contrary to the Home Secretary's assurances that Irish citizens will have to hold an ID card or be on the register, the Irish Nationality and Citizens Act 1956 and the Ireland Act 1949 mean that Ireland's citizens in the UK are treated as UK citizens in UK law and will therefore not be required to hold an ID card or appear on the register?
The hon. Gentleman is more easily shocked than me if that shocks him. However, he describes the position of the Irish citizen more clearly than any Government Front Bencher, so I commend him for hat.
It is worth reminding ourselves of what we compel people to do by insisting on a compulsory link between a designated document and an identity card. We are not considering an innocuous little piece of plastic, but everything that underpins it: the national identity register and its database and the occasions, places and purposes for which it is used. The Government are trying to foist on us a position whereby we will leave a footprint of where we have been, what we have done and why we have had to access public services.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the Labour manifesto, which made it clear that identity cards were to be voluntary. Does he agree that if the Government were so confident about the success of ID cards they would agree to their being voluntary? If they were so good, and if everyone could see how wonderful they were, everyone would sign up for one. Surely this creeping compulsion shows that, despite the Home Office having wanted to introduce them for years, Ministers do not feel very confident about them deep down.
I am beginning to wish that we had voted against the programme motion, because 90 minutes is clearly insufficient time for a debate such as this. However, the hon. Lady has done me a service, in that she has made my last point for me. If everything that the Government claim about identity cards were true, they would not need to be compulsory because everyone would want them. Clearly it is not, and clearly they do not. That is why the Government want compulsion.
People listening to this debate might be in danger of getting a little confused, because the first 90 minutes have been taken up with a debate about whether the cards should be voluntary or compulsory. I agree that we were right to accept the earlier Lords amendment to require separate primary legislation on this issue. Constitutionally, we now know where we are, and that is a much better way of doing things.
This amendment is also about the argument between compulsory versus voluntary. Here, however, I agree with the Government. I oppose the Lords amendment because it is important to preserve the requirement for the decision on the national identity register to be taken at a later stage. In the short term, very little will happen. When we apply for a passport, we already have to give our name, address, date and place of birth, sex and nationality. Those six pieces of information are then stored on a separate database known as the national insurance register. I waited for David Davis to reveal why the provisions would have the effect of making secret information more accessible. I waited in vain, however, because he never came to the point.
The Government already have many databases that contain that same basic information. The electoral register, for example, contains our names and addresses. The Inland Revenue possesses the names and addresses, and many more details, of 40 million people, and the national insurance register contains the details of 60 million people. I believe that eBay has a database of 157 million users.
I will not give way, because we are reaching the end of the debate. The key question is whether the existence of these databases gives anyone unauthorised access to confidential information, and the answer totally eluded the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden. We never discovered from him how that could happen.
As my hon. Friend knows, we have only four minutes left in this debate, and I have not intervened on others.
A voluntary ID register makes no more sense than voluntary bus fares or voluntary juries. The huge benefits that will come to the citizen, to the Government and to private industry with the introduction of ID cards are to a large extent dependent on it being compulsory for everyone's name to be on the national identity register. The figures in the Home Office benefits overview show that we could draw benefits worth £1.1 billion from the existence of such a register, but that we would draw 100 per cent. of those benefits only if we had 100 per cent. take-up. With only 50 per cent. take-up, the benefits would be less than 10 per cent. of that figure. This is precisely the point that the amendment does not deal with. With a take-up of only 60 per cent., the benefits would be less than 20 per cent. Only when we pass the 80 to 90 per cent. take-up rate will the benefits of this legislation really come to us.
The lion's share of the benefits, in financial terms, will come from fraud prevention and the reduced cost of crime. Only a small benefit will come, in the earlier stages, from the greater efficiency of public services and from more effective control of work permits and visas. If we had a low take-up, we would see significant benefits only in public services and in immigration, although the savings would still be well worth having to organisations such as the Criminal Records Bureau, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, the Department for Education and Skills and the immigration and nationality directorate.
To reduce fraud, however, we need everyone to be in the scheme. As long as we are allowed to present alternative forms of identification, such as utility bills, the people who intend to commit fraud will do just that. It is ironic that hon. Members who were concerned about the weakness of List 99 and the sex offenders register should have missed the point that those weaknesses are in large part due to the lack of any way of being sure of someone's identity. The Criminal Records Bureau has estimated that the time needed to carry out a check would come down from four weeks to three days if we had ID cards. More importantly, the result of that check would be much more secure.
The other point that we have missed is that the largest beneficiary of a full ID card system would be not the Government but the citizen. When someone has their identity stolen, they do not usually lose out financially. It is the bank that loses, and passes the cost on to other users. According to the Home Office, the benefit of ID cards would amount to about £420 million for the citizen, and a similar amount to industry, but only about £240 million to public services. We have only to consider the costs and benefits of the ID card system to see that—