My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
I trust that your Lordships will forgive me as there may be a touch of déjà vu in presenting to you today the Identity Cards Bill for its Second Reading. That is because the Bill is based very closely on the Identity Cards Bill that I also presented to your Lordships' House for Second Reading on
The Bill before us has had more scrutiny than most legislation. It started with a six-month public consultation exercise in July 2002. The Government announced the result of their consultation in November 2003. Your Lordships may recall that I repeated the then Home Secretary's Statement on
This first Bill passed through the other placed and was introduced into this House in February 2005. We have now reached the point where the current Bill, which has also been approved by the other place, is ready for its Second Reading in this House. I believe that the time has come when we might accept that the introduction of the Identity Cards Bill is a wise and sensible—indeed, some would say a common-sense—measure to protect our identities.
As has been said on many occasions, our identities are precious and need to be protected. The Identity Cards Bill establishes a clear legislative framework for the introduction of identity cards so that everyone aged 16 and over and resident in the United Kingdom will be able to hold a biometric identity card linked to a highly secure national identity register.
Clause 1 establishes clear statutory purposes. That means that there can be no confusion about what the scheme is to achieve. Clause 1(3)(a) makes it clear that the identity card scheme is first and foremost to provide individuals with a convenient method of proving their identity—that is exactly why most people want identity cards; they want to protect their own identity—and to enable us all to prove who we are when we choose to do so. The Cabinet Office's Identity Fraud: A Study, which was published in 2002, concluded that current means of identification are simply not secure or reliable enough. That is why the identity card scheme will use biometrics to link an individual to his or her single, unique identity. More and more we are being asked to prove our identity in everyday transactions, whether for proof of age or for proof of identity when opening a bank account. It does not make sense for people to have to use their passport or other documentary evidence, such as utility bills, for that. That is really not good enough. That is why in recent surveys more than 70 per cent of the public say that they support the identity cards. The latest Home Office research, published on
The identity cards scheme is being introduced not only as a convenient way for individuals to prove their identity but because it is also necessary in the wider public interest. This is the second arm of the statutory purposes set out in Clause 1(3)(b) and (4). Public interest is defined in five ways, the first of which is national security. On their own, identity cards will not stop the risk of terrorism. We should be clear that identity cards on their own may not prevent suicide bombers, but they will disrupt the activities of those who aid and abet terrorism by hiding behind multiple and false identities. By making it harder, or impossible, to assume a false identity or to use multiple identities, it will be much more difficult for terrorists to operate and it will help the police and security services in their work. We have been advised that more than one third of terrorist suspects are known to have used false identities. Indeed, al-Qaeda's training manual requires its operatives to acquire false identities to hide their terrorist activities.
The second part of the public interest definition involves the prevention or detection of crime. This will not alter the relationship between the public and the police. As a result of the Bill, the police will have no new powers to demand proof of identity or to require people to produce an identity card in the street. Clause 15(3) precludes the making of regulations to require the carrying of an identity card at all times. However, I believe that it is right that the Bill should allow for the police to be provided with information from the national identity register to check an individual's identity without that individual's consent, provided that it can be justified for the prevention or detection of crime. However, Parliament will also be able to agree specific rules—provided for in Clause 23—about how information will be provided to the police or other organisations and at what level in the organisation the request must be approved. We have also protected the most sensitive area of the register—that is, the records of how the card or database entry has been checked previously—by the provisions in Paragraph 9 of Schedule 1 to the Bill. This audit log information can only be provided for purposes connected with the prevention and detection of serious crime or for the existing statutory purposes of the intelligence and security agencies.
The third part of the public interest definition involves the enforcement of immigration controls. Most people will be entered on the register when they apply for a designated document. Clauses 4 and 10 provide for that. It is intended to designate British passports issued to UK residents. Once designated, anyone over 16 applying for a British passport will be entered on the national identity register and will then also be issued with an identity card. The passport and identity card will therefore be issued together as a package.
In the case of foreign residents, the intention is to designate the residence documents issued to foreign nationals and for those to double as an identity card. That means that once designated anyone applying for these documents and legally resident in the United Kingdom will have had their identity verified to the highest standard and will have been issued with a biometric ID card. I believe that this will act as a major deterrent to illegal immigration, as eventually everyone resident here legally will have a biometric ID card which will confirm his identity as well as his right to reside here.
The fourth part of the public interest definition involves the enforcement of prohibitions on illegal working. One of the key pull factors for illegal immigrants is our healthy economy, combined with the fact that even the most reputable of employers can find it difficult to know who is entitled to work here. In future, the possession of an identity card, which confirms an individual's right to reside and work in the United Kingdom, will make it very much easier for employers to ensure that they comply with the law.
The final public interest is to secure the efficient and effective provision of public services. Clauses 15 to 17 allow Parliament to approve regulations for public services to require an identity card to be produced before an individual accesses a particular service. Parliament will have to approve individual regulations for individual services, and there are obligations on the Government to consult about any proposals. However, the principle, we believe, is surely right, that when seeking access to a public service, such as free health treatment or applying for the payment of state benefits, an individual should be asked to produce an identity card that confirms his or her identity as a first step in proving entitlement to the service. Of course, as we have always made clear, this will not interfere with delivery of emergency healthcare or other services, and it will not be a requirement to produce an identity card for the payment of benefits or free public services, until it becomes compulsory to register and hold an ID card.
Much of the cost of introducing identity cards will need to be incurred in any case to keep our passports up to acceptable international standards. That includes the plans we have already announced for the introduction of personal interviews for all first-time passport applicants, starting next year and for facial image biometric passports, which will also start to be issued next year. Some 80 per cent of adults already hold a passport so it makes good sense for us to build on the existing plans for biometric passports to provide our own biometric identity card scheme.
Biometrics may appear to be a new concept, but we have been using fingerprints to identify people for more than 100 years. The Bill defines "biometric information" in Clause 43 as being, "data about . . . external characteristics". That allows for 13 separate biometrics to be recorded. Here I have to resist demonstrating the following "one facial image, 10 fingers and two eyes". Noble Lords can see how that might be applied in other circumstances.
Current plans allow for the issue of the first identity cards in 2008 through a new agency incorporating the United Kingdom Passport Service, and working closely with the Immigration and Nationality Directorate of the Home Office. By building on the UK passport service, we will be using an agency that in recent years has achieved an enviable reputation for customer service. Last year, the service was the only UK organisation nominated for the prestigious international Carl Bertelsmann award for public sector efficiency and it won a record fifth Charter Mark. The United Kingdom Passport Service has also carried out a trial of biometric enrolment with a sample of 10,000 individuals to test the practicalities of enrolling biometrics. That included using a mobile enrolment unit that could travel to rural areas as well as offshore islands.
Identity fraud costs this country an estimated £1.3 billion per year. It also creates real concerns for those of us at risk and real problems for victims of those fraudsters. Shredding personal and financial documents is not enough; we need a secure way to prove our identity and prevent others from stealing it. Once the scheme is introduced, we estimate that the total average annual running cost for issuing passports and ID cards to UK nationals will be £584 million. The Bill provides at Clause 37 for a range of services to be covered by fees, including approving an organisation before it can make checks against the register and usage fees for identity checks themselves. It is right that organisations benefiting from the checks should fund those costs.
We have said all along that we expect most people to get their ID card with their passport. That will be the most convenient way to participate in the scheme and will give people the full benefits associated with having the most secure travel documents, which can be used worldwide. Our current best estimate of the average unit cost of a combined passport and ID card package is £93. This is not a £100 ID card, as some critics have suggested; £93 is the cost for both products, passport and ID card, and about 70 per cent of that cost would be incurred anyway because of the worldwide move to biometric passports. Some people may choose to obtain a stand-alone ID card. They may, for instance, have never travelled abroad and want only to travel to Europe, for which the identity card will be valid.
Since the previous Bill was discussed, the identity cards project has been through a further Office of Government Commerce review, Gateway 1, on business justification and the review confirmed that the project is ready to proceed to the next phase. Within our current financial estimates of the scheme as a whole, it will be affordable to set a charge at current prices for a stand-alone ID card valid for 10 years of £30. No one who wants to protect their identity need pay more.
As I explained, we expect that most people will obtain their ID card when they apply for a British passport or a foreign national's residence permit. However, the Government have been clear that the identity card scheme to be introduced is designed to become compulsory. We therefore need to have the debate on the principle of compulsion now. The provisions on compulsion are in Clauses 6, 7 and 9 and concern the timing of compulsion and the precise categories of people who will be required to register. It will be possible to phase that requirement in for different categories at different times and to exempt certain groups—such as the very elderly, perhaps.
The Government must publish our reasons for compulsion; allow both Houses of Parliament to comment on our proposal for compulsion; and take account of those comments before laying an order before both Houses. Under that so-called super-affirmative procedure, both Houses must then agree to the order setting a date for compulsion. The means of enforcing the compulsion to register are via civil financial penalties. It will not be a criminal offence to fail to register when the scheme is compulsory. We do not see the need to burden the police or the criminal courts with enforcing the scheme; we will use civil means. Clauses 34 and 35 set out the procedure for objecting to or appealing against any civil penalty that may be imposed.
I am grateful to the Joint Committee on Human Rights for its contribution to the debate on the Government's proposals. I have read its latest report on the Identity Cards Bill published on
Apart from the United Kingdom and Ireland, only Latvia and Denmark do not currently have ID cards. Latvia has already announced plans to introduce them in 2006, and Denmark already has a national central persons register, which contains identity and address details, with a unique number to identify every resident. The Government believe that the limitations placed on the information that may be held on a national identity register and the safeguards that regulate the information that may be disclosed from the register ensure that any interference with Article 8 rights will be proportionate.
I am grateful to the Select Committee on the Constitution for its report, published on
I can confirm that a delegated powers memorandum on the Bill was submitted to the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform on
We intend that the first biometric identity cards should be issued in 2008. There will be further opportunities between now and then for noble Lords to look at the detailed provisions to be set out in secondary legislation. The simple fact is that the possession of a clear, unequivocal and unique form of identity in the shape of a card linked to a database holding biometrics will offer clear benefits to us all.
I will listen extremely carefully to noble Lords' points on the Bill and on the practical implementation of the identity cards scheme. However, the Government are convinced that the introduction of identity cards is in the interests of the nation. I therefore commend the Bill to the House.
Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Baroness Scotland of Asthal.)
My Lords, as ever, I thank the Minister for setting out the Government's case with such care and charm that, for one passing moment, it could seem the most reasonable thing in the world to believe that they were doing us all a big favour by bringing forward this Bill. But that moment passes rapidly and we return to reality.
The Cabinet's obsession with its version of identity cards means that we now face the prospect of a national identity register and all the expensive and intrusive bureaucracy that that will entail. It has made extravagant claims about the effectiveness and the benefits of its scheme. It is being extravagant with the money of every individual in this land by proposing to spend vast sums on the national register, sums that could perhaps be better spent on more police, more border controls and better public services.
The Select Committee on the Constitution, to which the noble Baroness referred, pointed out in its third report:
"we continue to believe that the constitutional significance of the Bill is that it adjusts the fundamental relationship between the individual and the State".
Of course it is vital for the Government to maintain a balance between the interests of the citizen and the role of the state. Of course it is the duty of the state to protect the lives of its citizens. But the duty to protect that life must be balanced by the duty to protect our way of life.
Before 9/11, as I said before, I would not have countenanced ID cards; after that, I accepted that we should at least consider them. We should always examine very carefully any measures that may enhance the nation's security, but at the same time we must maintain a proper degree of proportionality.
The Government failed to come up to proof during the debates on the Bill in another place, despite the sterling efforts of my honourable friends to press them to be more open about the vital details behind this framework legislation. The Minister has referred to what the Government call "extensive pre-legislative scrutiny" over a period of a year or two. So far, that scrutiny has lacked one vital element: participation by this House. As the noble Baroness has reminded us, all we have been allowed so far over here is a mere sniff at the Bill at Second Reading in March of this year before the Government called an early election. Now it comes before us after further debate in another place, but with no real progress to report. So we need to make progress in improving the Bill in this House where it is right to do so.
The noble Baroness also referred to the public support for and the popularity of ID cards, but it is important to note that as the debate has gone ahead about the real costs and what kind of card this might be, that support has faltered and, from the Government's point of view, has at times failed dramatically.
There are several vital issues that we will need to look at carefully and in a quiet, considered way throughout our debates. Others may get a little more heated; including myself. For example, the Government make a great play of saying that the Bill does not make it compulsory to carry an ID card, but that is a red herring. The problem is that, as the Bill is currently drafted, it will be compulsory to register from the very beginning of the scheme, if the Government get their way.
First, they were not prepared to come clean about the implications of their Bill in the manifesto. On Report in another place, the Minister's honourable friend Mr Neil Gerrard, the Member for Walthamstow, quoted from that document:
"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".—[Hansard, Commons, 18/10/05; col. 748.]
As Mr Gerrard pointed out, Clause 5 imposes an unacceptable element of compulsion to register for an ID card even at a time when the card system is supposed to be voluntary. If you want to apply for or renew a passport or perhaps a driving licence, the Government will force you to enter your details on the ID card register even if you have decided that during the voluntary period you do not under any circumstances want to have an ID card. That cannot be right.
Secondly, I find it unacceptable that the Government apparently intend to prevent this House modifying or rejecting the super-affirmative process that would herald the transition of the scheme from being voluntary to compulsory. I cite here col. 216 of the Committee proceedings in another place held on
Last week I raised these issues with the Minister, Mr Andy Burnham, at the Government's briefing meeting. I was glad that he was able to attend. He said that he recognised that there were difficulties with the super-affirmative procedure and that he was prepared to debate replacing it with a requirement for primary legislation. I recognise that while his response was not a commitment, it was constructive and I too shall respond in a constructive way by tabling amendments in Committee to start the debate rolling at that stage.
In the debates in another place we set out five reasonable tests to determine whether the Bill is a proportionate and effective response to the Government's perceived need for ID cards. The Government failed to pass them. We will table amendments to give them the opportunity to try to come up to proof in this House. The first test is that of clarity of purpose. Not only must the Government make clear the specific purposes for which an ID card is required, they must also make it clear which of those purposes are priorities, otherwise it will be difficult to assess them.
In the debate leading up to the Bill, during the consultation process and again here today, the Government have claimed that a national ID card is needed to reduce crime, illegal immigration, identity fraud and to tackle terrorism; the list goes on. But to say that that is what these cards would achieve does not prove the case in itself. We need evidence rather than just words. And I note that the Minister has said today that the Government already recognise that sadly ID cards would not have prevented the atrocities that took place last July in London. I agree with the briefing from the National Assembly Against Racism, which points out that little evidence has been provided on the effectiveness of the card and the national identity register in fighting illegal immigration and undocumented working; against terrorism and identity theft.
The second test is that of technology and its capabilities. The system must of course be robust from start to finish: from the card to the biometric reader, through the communication system and into the central computer, database and software. It must be impossible for a virus to enter the system because, if it were to do so, it would cause mayhem. It could create and conceal multiple identities, thus corrupting the system's core purpose.
The fact is that biometric technology is fallible. It is estimated that one in six people would not be able to get identity cards because their biometric data may not be properly recordable on a card's implanted chip. The Government Minister, Mr McNulty, recently admitted, of course, that there are problems with the technology capturing people with brown eyes; we also know that scanning carried out in the wrong type of light or in shadow could lead to an inaccurate identification; and if you are bald—well, watch out. Trials have demonstrated that the biometrics of black, elderly and disabled people also have a higher chance of being incorrectly matched. They would find it, therefore, hard to gain access to services which one day will be gate-kept by the possession of an identity card.
The third test is whether the Government can run the system. We know this would be the most ambitious technology project this country has ever seen. We also know that the Government have a less than perfect record in overseeing large-scale projects. As the noble Baroness has said before, we are coming back to a familiar theme—but then, the Government are forcing us to do so. The most recent examples of failure include those of the Child Support Agency computer and the national fingerprint identification system. Both of these look like modest projects when compared with the proposal to set up a national identity register of the complexity constructed in the Bill.
A major problem is that the Bill is too broad brush. It is stuffed full of references to—
My Lords, is the noble Baroness saying that all IT systems in this country do not work? I can reel off some of the most enormous complexity—for example, the change of the air traffic control system and the movement of the computers of the Meteorological Office. The noble Baroness should make her selections rather more judiciously.
My Lords, I am delighted to respond to the noble Lord because obviously he did not quite catch my first words. I said that something of this complexity is far beyond anything that has gone before. I recognise the work that he has done in the Meteorological Office to enable the transfer down to Exeter, I believe it was, and the success that it has had. I am a frequent user of the website. The Minister has been careful in what she has chosen to refer to, including one year of the Passport Agency. I have commended the Passport Agency on the work it has carried out in combating the most appalling difficulties it faced, as a result of government action, in catching up with some of the work it had to do. We will look in detail at these problems in Committee.
We have made it clear that we accept that all governments face difficulties with complex systems. The Government's choice here is perhaps the most complex system that man or woman could devise, and yet they provide us with a blank cheque of 60 statutory instruments. When the Government were cross-examined, they failed to produce a draft of a single statutory instrument in the process of the Bill passing through another place twice. Nor did they honour an offer they made in Committee in another place when they said they would bring forward a draft of the code of guidance on penalties. So I take no lessons from the Government, but I certainly hope to join them in school in Committee to see whether we can improve the Bill.
I have taken about two more minutes than I should have done; I apologise to the House for my enthusiastic riposte to the noble Lord. The fourth test is to consider the cost-effectiveness of the scheme. I shall leave that to other noble Lords who have gone through the LSE report and the Government's responses.
My Lords, "No" is the quick answer. The longer answer will emerge in Committee. I am prepared to give the Government a chance to prove that ID cards might be of benefit in some circumstances. I am not convinced that this is the constructed Bill, nor these the circumstances, that will achieve the benefits that the Government have put forward. Unlike the Government, I really am prepared to listen. But patience is running out, given that there has been so little consideration in the House and so much outside.
The costs are a matter of deep argument between the Government and those who criticise the Bill. I have seen reports that conventional wisdom puts the overall cost at somewhere between £10 billion and £20 billion. We will obviously have the chance to examine that in Committee, and no doubt on Report and at Third Reading.
We will also need to look at civil liberties. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, that that is the one issue I carry in my heart; it has to be considered whatever identity card scheme one wants to introduce. That is why, for me, it will underpin our debates throughout the Bill's proceedings.
There are real concerns about civil liberties. The proposed scheme will involve the establishment of the behemoth of the national identity register, the use of the latest technology and the gathering of information on millions of people. That register will be the hub that allows the collation of, and access to, vast amounts of data on individuals—the audit trail which the Minister mentioned—from many government databases. Parliament must oversee the nature of the data used on the cards and control who has access to them.
Any project with such huge financial and constitutional implications needs to be justified clearly, as a proportionate and effective response to social need. So far, the Government have not justified the method they have adopted in this skeletal enabling Bill. Unless they can do so, I shall have to remain of my view that the Government's proposals are not just expensive but excessive, not just illiberal but impractical, and not just unnecessary but unworkable.
My Lords, we on these Benches oppose the Bill as it stands, and strongly. ID cards look impeccable in theory, but the claims made for them usually do not withstand critical scrutiny. The major London School of Economics review of this scheme is such a case.
What none of us wants is a pig in a poke, however grandiose. What none of us wants—even the Government, I think—is a slippery slope, at the bottom of which broods an over-mighty state, where the privacy of the citizen is largely figmentary, the whole culture of freedom is undermined and the managerialist and corporatist values that now seem to dominate the public as well as private realms triumph.
The Bill may have only 43 pages—short by modern standards—but it is dauntingly complicated and impenetrable. To that extent, it is apt to be counter-productive, as was the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, and will, rightly, heighten citizen anxiety and suspicion.
Before going any further, I commend the work done on the Bill by the House of Lords Constitution Committee, the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the many organisations outside the House that have given great thought to its provisions. I chaired the distinguished advisory committee convened by Liberty, and its work as well as that of Justice deserves the highest praise, as does that of the Law Society, the Foundation for Information Policy Research, NO2ID and the London School of Economics.
The long title of the Bill is:
"A Bill to make provision for a national scheme of registration of individuals and for the issue of cards capable of being used for identifying registered individuals".
However, as soon as we plunge into Clause 1, we see that the Bill is not just about identification and registration of citizens, as the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, seemed to imply, but about collecting information on citizens—in Clause 1(3)(b). The Minister will say—indeed, she did say—that it can be done only where there is the necessary public interest. However, that is defined in Clause 1(4) extremely widely, the last category being:
"for the purpose of securing the efficient and effective provision of public services".
Noble Lords may think that that is fair enough, but public services are also defined in Clause 43 (2) in the widest way:
"the provision of public services" including any such service provided by any "public authority". What is a public authority? Under the Human Rights Act 1998, to which the definition refers, it includes hundreds and hundreds of organisations such as the Student Loans Company, the Gaming Board for Great Britain, and UK Sport. The definition of public services itself goes far too wide and opens a veritable Pandora's box.
Such latitude is much extended by the many powers in the Bill allowing the Secretary of State to act by order to extend—for example and crucially—the scope of the information to be kept on the register under Clause 1. By Clause 4, the Secretary of State can by order make passports "designated", which would then have them treated as identity cards for the purposes of the Bill. The Secretary of State can go further under Clause 6 and make the whole scheme compulsory for everyone. The noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, was fair enough to say that we should look at the Bill against the probability of compulsion. There is a plethora of other such powers, which is why the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, was correct to call it a skeleton Bill.
Another trap is in Clause 3(5), which states:
"The Secretary of State may by order modify the information for the time being set out in Schedule 1".
In effect, he can extend the information that can be forced out of every citizen by order. The Government maintain that they have no malign intent, nor any current plans to use their vast array of order-making powers. One must agree with both those propositions. However, their manifesto rather gave the game away. It said that they would,
"introduce ID cards including biometric data like fingerprints backed up by a national register and rolling out initially on a voluntary basis".
"Initially" is the key word. When the Minister winds up the debate, it would be good to hear how soon she expects compulsion to arrive.
It is often said—we hear it repeatedly—that if you have nothing to fear you should welcome ID cards; that many other nations have them; that the police want them; and that ID cards will merely bring us into the 21st century in better shape to fight terrorism, crime, illegal immigration, social security fraud, identity theft, Uncle Tom Cobley and all. It was the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, who warned, none the less, about our sleepwalking into the very position that we believe will be created by the Bill unless it is much reformed. The reason that the commissioner used that vivid metaphor is surely that any down-to-earth, commonsense assessment of the capacity of the state to undertake the phenomenally complicated and sensitive task of establishing a national register without cock-up, incompetence or subversion is bound to be a negative verdict.
No comparable project to the one that we are contemplating exists on Earth. Apart from our track record with big computers, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, referred, what is one supposed to make of the secure bank of fingerprints and genetic samples held under the provisions of our criminal law? It was audited a few years back and was found to contain over 50,000 sets of information that had been illegally retained.
It is not even as if the industry that would be the beneficiary of this gargantuan undertaking thinks it likely, to use the language of Clause 1, to deliver a "secure and reliable" outcome. Gary Fishenden, writing in The Scotsman, said that the national register would be a honeypot for hackers worldwide, which would,
"perpetuate the very problem the system was intended to prevent".
The same view has been echoed from across the Atlantic, where they have eschewed such grandiosity.
Interestingly, not only did the Australians abandon their ID scheme after some initial enthusiasm, but in 1992 the New South Wales Royal Commission, which had reported exhaustively on the security of state-stored citizens' information, scathingly concluded that the corrupt use and sale of such sensitive information had reached "endemic and epidemic proportions". Although one may make jokes in the direction of Australia, I suggest that may not be so different from what we will experience here.
If there were more time, I would quote from the most recent report of the Fraud Advisory Panel, an independent body of experts including senior policemen, a former director of the Serious Fraud Office, lawyers, accountants and bankers. I will read just one quotation:
"Identity theft is now commonly committed by organised professional gangs whose sophisticated methods go far beyond" the old ones. The report says that,
"New technology is being turned to criminal advantage".
I suggest again that that is precisely what the Microsoft expert warned against.
Some 89 per cent of large companies reported last year that they had experienced hi-tech crime, which cost nearly £2.5 billion. I mention that to illustrate the probability of any scheme that we may come up with for securing ID information and its use being circumvented by the determined sharks that now infest our country.
No, my Lords, he is not. He is suggesting that, as the expert from Microsoft said, we may be inadvertently creating what he called a "honeypot" that would allow, in a simpler way, those who are determined to circumvent the systems—there are many of them, and their numbers are growing—to do so. I am warning against the easy assumption that the system that we are now setting up will be proof against all that. It patently will not. That is the advice that we are getting.
My Lords, does the noble Lord accept that banks in this country and throughout the world are gravely concerned about fraud using bankcards? They suggest that the best way to deal with that is to move to a biometric card system that allows machines to recognise who exactly is using them. So what is wrong with us moving to a biometric system as well?
My Lords, I am not able to comment intelligently on the noble Lord's observation, because I was not aware until he mentioned it that the banks were doing so. I suggest, though, that there is a difference between the needs of a bank in relation to its customers, about whom they acquire a great deal of information in the course of opening an account and so on, and those of a computer system designed to cover every citizen of this land in totally different circumstances.
The noble Baroness made reference in opening to paragraph 9 of the Schedule 1 to the Bill. It authorises the logging in every citizen's ID file of details of every occasion on which their identity card is used. That may sound innocent enough, but, as with the use of computers and mobile phones, the logging of every such use builds up a picture of the lifestyle of the ID card owner and represents a serious intrusion into privacy. The time may well come when ID cards will be used in most shops, restaurants and banks to verify identity, with the intrusion of privacy complications that that will bring. I should add that Clause 20 gives automatic access to all of that data to the police for any crime. In respect of any crime, however trivial, the police, under the Bill, will have the right to access that highly sensitive information.
It is worth remembering that the extremely simple identity card issued to all of us—not all of us; not the noble Baroness for one—during World War II was originally available for only three purposes but that by the time of its abandonment in 1952 it was being used for over 30. Fears of function creep are intrinsic to this experiment, and I believe that those fears are entirely prudent. So is our anxiety about the claims made by the Government for the utility of the ID card. As NO2ID, an NGO, succinctly put it:
""less liberty does not imply greater security".
My concern is that we are now so preoccupied with the hardware of security and policing that we devote far too little time and effort to the hearts and minds issues that underlie crime and illegality.
As several of us said about the Terrorism Bill, insensitive and excessive security powers can stimulate the very extremism and illegality that they are designed to deter. At least the Government are not claiming that the ID cards will stop terrorism, as has already been mentioned. As for immigration and working, people will still come here using foreign documentation, real or not, and there is nothing to suggest that the number of prosecutions for unlawful employment would increase under the new regime. Asylum seekers, in any event, have ID cards.
As for social security fraud and abuse of public services, identity is not usually the problem; that lies in false claims about means and so on. And what about our ancient common law right to call ourselves by what we will? My daughter, married though she is, uses her maiden name and her married name in different circumstances. Will that be illegal? Indeed, what of us? I job between title and my real name according to circumstances, and I am not thinking of restaurant tables. As for identity fraud, there is insufficient evidence that the ID card would work. Indeed, there is evidence that by relying on a single source for identification, the fraudster will have an advantage—that partly responds to the two interventions.
Cost has been hotly debated, and there is nothing remotely approaching consensus. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, quoted the figure of £15 billion to £20 billion. The LSE study showed that and gave great detail on how they came up with that figure. That was the cost for establishing and operating the scheme over 10 years. That would throw up, at a median figure, a cost per ID card of £230, not the £30 or £93 mentioned by the noble Baroness.
In addition, I am told that the LSE team will shortly update the estimates to include the integration costs of the databank with other government departments. That will be of the order of £5 billion to £10 billion. If they are remotely right, there are profound questions of political choice about how best to use an investment of that scale for the stated purposes. The Liberal Democrats in the other place suggested that even a part of the sum that might be devoted to the scheme would be better used putting more police on our streets.
Given that the Government have—not only in my view but, I should think, in anyone's view—produced inadequate justification for those key figures and given how crucial they are in our deliberations, I suggest to the House that it would be folly to bring the Bill into effect unless an independent study or an independent audit of a government study had been fully completed and considered by the House. It may then prove that the basic cost assumptions that the Government hold are wrong. With that would come very profound alternative policy options.
What about the culture and psychology of a compulsory ID system? I have often been touched by émigrés, particularly pre-war ones, who have said to me in so many words, "What I have been profoundly grateful for is the freedom of this country—the fact that I am on no one's list". Some say that we live in different times and that terrorism has changed all that. I refute that entirely. I believe that for us to be pushed—some might say panicked—into this Bill because of perfectly natural worries about the horrid phenomenon of terrorism would somehow be to truckle to it, even to lend encouragement to it. We would be changing significantly the relationship between the state and the citizen in response to it and would therefore inadvertently be giving it succour.
I much prefer the spirit of the East Enders in the blitz and of Winston Churchill and Lord Atkin when dealing with the question of alien detention in the middle of the Second World War, when we really were up against it. Churchill sent a telegram from north Africa saying that democratic freedom was what we were fighting the war for, and the inspiring judgment of Lord Atkin in Liversidge v Anderson gave everlasting voice to that sentiment.
What are we on these Benches looking for? First, we want primary legislation for designation of passports as identity cards, as that would cover roughly 80 per cent of the population. Secondly, we want the same for universal compulsion under Clause 6. We want the scope of paragraph 9 of the first schedule, to which I have referred, to be bolted and barred against extension of its use, even within the limits of the Bill. We want to query the use of the cards or rather to seek to confine the use of identity cards to what is called a one-to-one comparison rather than one-to-many comparisons. I do not have time to explain that further to noble Lords who find that to be gobbledegook. We certainly want to look carefully at the somewhat obscure provisions for pooling registered information with commercial interests. As to the information that can be stored under Clause 1, we definitely want to reduce the scope of the same, including a narrowed definition of "public interest" and "public services", as I have tried to explain.
We want carefully to scrutinise the whole Bill for its ethnic consequences, as there is no doubt that there is especial sensitivity in those communities. We will look carefully at the notification of change requirements, which as they stand seem likely to disadvantage the already disadvantaged. We will want the role of the National Identity Scheme Commissioner—an important one—to be strengthened and made more independent, reporting to Parliament rather than to the Government, with the prospect of wider powers to deal with complaints, protection of privacy and preservation of the integrity of the system. We want to review the compliance of the proposed scheme with the Human Rights Act 1998 and with the European Union freedom to travel directive, which comes into force next April, and which I do not think is consistent with what we have here.
At all points we will prefer specific protection to reliance on the often uncertain protections of the Human Rights Act. We will be vigilant against function creep. As I said, we will not want the Bill to be implemented until the cost implications have been established. We look forward to stimulating debates, an accommodating government Front Bench and lots and lots of amendments.
My Lords, it may well be useful to look at the history of the past nine to 10 years regarding identification cards and such issues. The right honourable Michael Howard, the leader of the opposition in another place, said at the 1994 Tory Party conference that identification cards were an,
"invaluable tool in the fight against crime".
Those sentiments were not taken forward fully mainly because it was felt by the police, among other agencies, that to take them forward in the way that he mentioned would erode relationships with the public. Interestingly enough, there was no discussion of costs.
Your Lordships know, as do others, that since 1994 the world has changed. Since 1994 the question in relation to terrorism is obvious. Since 1994 the question in relation to organised crime has ratcheted up. We are now dealing with a problem of human trafficking and the enforced slavery, if you like, of women from other parts of Europe and the world.
Noble Lords have heard about fraud in relation to that area from the noble Baroness.
I shall give noble Lords some examples of what has taken place in the past two weeks in terms of results in combating identity theft. The dangers to this country of illegal immigration have already been spelt out, as far as the social make-up of the country is concerned and more importantly that illegal immigration is, on occasion, linked in with all the four issues that I talked about earlier. They must not be seen in isolation. Terrorists can be, and on many occasions are, involved in organised crime and fraud, and nearly every single case other than the cases that involved the so-called "home-grown terrorists" has involved identity theft.
The identification that is used by terrorists at present is as good as the identification that I have in my pocket. The police have recovered hundreds of forged passports and identification documents that are as good in every way as those that you and I carry in our everyday lives. I have some recent illustrations. I refer to the Bourgass case—the ricin plot—of the individual who was found guilty of conspiracy. He was trained in the camps of Afghanistan and went to and fro on a regular basis, which at the end of the day was monitored. He had multiple identifications that were as good as those that you and I carry in our pockets.
Last week, a man was sentenced to five years' imprisonment for defrauding various organisations in this country of £1 million. He had 130 different identifications, again as good as those that you and I carry in our pockets. In another case reported last week, which I know inside out, a lady had £57,000 taken from her because her identification was stolen by a criminal.
Interpol has on its records 8.2 million stolen passports taken from various parts of the world. They are out there on the streets and can be used at any time if they are doctored by a criminal or by anyone who wishes to cross boundaries. It is worth remembering that there are massive databases in this country: for instance, those dealing with credit cards, mobile phones and even the electronic passes to get in and out of your Lordships' House and the other place. These databases are uncontrolled in terms of the type of control that noble Lords are rightly looking for in relation to ID cards. There is the view that perhaps if we put those databases under one control with independent scrutiny and the scrutiny of your Lordships' House as well as the other place, that would be far safer than to leave the databases to build up on a willy-nilly basis.
The new technology is certain, which is the reason why the Association of Chief Police Officers and others have changed their view. Yes, retinal scans may have problems in certain areas; but fingerprints do not. Otherwise, tens of thousands of people who have been convicted over the past 150 years would be released or have their sentences quashed; and that will not happen. I believe that the move towards DNA would be a move too far. So in relation to where we are on identification cards, the police and others in the security services are absolutely certain that there is a need for a certainty of identification.They have no problem in terms of what that scrutiny should be. The Minister has set out that there should be further scrutiny of details of the Bill.
Of course the costs are an issue, and I leave that to other people to talk about. However, independent oversight—it has been described—is surely a way forward. I for one have confidence in judges—the independent judiciary—to ensure that the Human Rights Act is used in a way that protects people's individual rights. Then of course we have the Data Protection Act.
I and others think that there is, in general, an overwhelming case for identity cards. I would like to end on another issue, which is that when police officers stop people in the street, one of the main rubbing points—it causes a great deal of aggravation—is the person's identity. The situation starts something like this: "Where do you live?" "I live in A." "Do you really live in A?". By the time that it is has finished three to four minutes later, you can have a very difficult situation. I have been part and parcel of those situations myself, and seen them even more recently. Certainty of identification is about more than only the five issues on which I have talked. It is about ensuring that you can identify the person who is there with certainty and, in such a case, take away the emotion from some of these very emotive instances.
Let us not forget also about the benefit of intelligence. We could say that, from an intelligence point of view, a national identity card would be an incredible gain. It could revolutionise the way in which we deal with intelligence. If we had a single point of contact in terms of people's identification, and of where people are in relation to their criminal or terrorist activity, it would be extremely useful and beyond that for the law enforcement agencies of this country. Of course there must be proper safeguards but, in very general terms, they are outlined in the Bill.
My Lords, I very much welcome this opportunity to make my first speech in this House, having served 26 years as a Member of Parliament in the House of Commons, and with almost as many years as a political activist doing all the strange things that political activists do in parties, which the rest of the world does not understand.
I have to say that I was a little ambivalent about coming, not because I did not think that I could do a useful job here—I am sure that I can, and I know what I want to do here. It was not because I think this place does not serve a very useful purpose—it serves a very important purpose, and sometimes one that is not well understood. Nor was it because the place is not representative. I say that knowing and insisting that the elected Chamber must and will always be the dominant Chamber. But one thing that struck me about this place some time ago was the way in which the appointments system can change the face of the place and, in some ways, makes it more representative of our nation. In the number of women, ethnic minorities, disabilities and so on, this House is in many ways more representative than the House of Commons. If I had said 10 years ago that, a few years later, we would have the first black woman Leader of the House of Lords, a lot of people would have said that I was exaggerating—even though we had a black Member of Parliament in the late 19th century, who was elected. We need to remember such things. It was my ambivalence. I felt that maybe I was a born-again masochist, and simply could not give up politics and the business of government in one form or another. I have a horrible feeling that that may be true.
Because of my 26 years in Parliament, the awful thought suddenly came back to me that in one of my many previous jobs I was a probation officer. During my early training for that job, I was asked by the court to see a guy who had just been released from what was called "seven years' preventive detention". At that time, preventive detention was a sentence of up to seven years, even for really minor offences, as it was in his case. It was used for people who had had many convictions, and if noble Lords think that "three strikes and you're out" is new, forget it—it has always been around; it is just the number of strikes that has changed.
Altogether, this guy had had 26 years in closed institutions of one type or another. He had done his seven years, went straight down the road, picked up a brick, chucked it through the jewellers' window and stood there waiting to be arrested, which he duly was. For his sins, which must have been many and varied, he was sent to see me. I said to him, "You're really just trying to get back inside again, aren't you?" He said, with commendable honesty, "Yeah. Is there any chance?" I thought, "I've done 26 years in the House of Commons. This is worrying".
Somewhere out there, perhaps that man is listening to this debate. I would like to think that he is and that he could say what I said to him. I said that I would write to him when he was back inside again. So perhaps he will write to me and ask all the things that probation officers ask when they write to prisoners, such as: what is the food like; what is the governor like; and do you get banged up for this, that or the other? I would be able to say, "Well, the food here is pretty good, and actually we don't have a governor; we have a very nice chap who sits on a Woolsack. On top of that, we don't get banged up for speaking out of turn".
Indeed, from my relatively short time here, it seems to me that Members of the House of Lords have turned speaking out of turn into an art form, whereas in the Commons it is a highly developed statistical skill. I am sure that the Speaker now has to take a degree in statistics in order to get the calling of Members right. Both systems work, although if you tried to take the place of another person who was getting up to speak during Questions in the Commons, there would be a pretty impressive row, and I do not know how well it would work. In any event, no doubt my ex-client would have sat there thinking, "This poor lad. I always knew he was going off the rails". He would have written to me, I am sure.
The other thing that struck me when I came here—I had not noticed it before, despite the fact that I used to show constituents and others this place as well as the House of Commons—was that two lines, two sword lengths apart, are not drawn on the Floor in this Chamber. Those of us who were in the Commons can draw two conclusions from that. One is that noble Lords are far more respectful and decent to each other; the other is that here there is an opportunity to get your jab in first, which is the much more brutalised approach that one finds in the House of Commons.
Those are some of my initial thoughts, and I now want to turn briefly to the subject of the Bill. If I had been asked five or 10 years ago whether we should have identity cards, I would have said no, but I would not have said that with any great principle or strength of feeling because I knew then, as I do now, that many democratic countries around the world have identity cards. So I do not think that this can be turned into a matter of principle.
One thing that made me begin to think again about the need for identity cards was the fact that in the late 1990s the area that I represented—Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush—like a number of areas represented by constituency MPs, had a very large number of ethnic minorities. They came here either as asylum seekers or refugees, or they came for work or other purposes. It is true that sometimes there is a problem of abuse by such people. It happens, and we should bear in mind that towards the end of my time in that constituency I would have 400 current cases at any given time, so you do build up a lot of experience. But that was not the only kind of abuse; there was also abuse by employers, and I cannot stress that enough.
I shall return to the subject of how an identity card might work on that basis in a moment but, first, I want to say that I came across employers who knowingly employed people who should not have been here—they had entered the country illegally. On top of that, those employers were paying below the minimum wage and, on top of that, they were taking money off the employees for accommodation and food. That is particularly true in some trades—the restaurant trade among others. They would also charge them tax. One was told, "We will collect your tax for you". I understand the difficulty of saying that an ID card will solve that. We need a system whereby an employer does not have an excuse and cannot say he did not know. Consider some of the cases before the courts at the moment. I do not want to mention the Chinese cockle-pickers' case as that is at present before the courts, but I want to use it to remind Members how desperately serious the situation is. I do not know how we can control the situation without a much better system of identification than we have.
I believe that Clause 18 is profoundly important as it says that one does not have to carry a card at all times. That is something that troubles people outside this House. If one does not have to carry one's card at all times, it will not be as intrusive and will not lead to stop-and-search as some groups fear. Clause 14 is also important as it enables one to know, up to a certain limit, what is on a card. The limits concern not the personal information per se on a card, but certain circumstances in which security forces might want to look at a card. My noble friend Lady Kennedy has said that she will put me right on this later, but remember that one has some protection under the European Court of Human Rights legislation because access to a card for certain reasons has to be proportionate.
The ID Bill was bound to come. It is very difficult to argue that modern democracies do not need such legislation. Cards are not counter-intuitive to the democratic form, to the rule of law or to freedom of speech. If they were, that would be a principal reason to oppose them. The Government have to get the detail right and I hope that they will listen to and consider some of the amendments that have been tabled because people must feel confident in the system. Confidence in the system, as the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, will know, is very important. As the opposition spokesman said, this will be a long debate. I hope that there will be some movement on amendments, but overall the Bill is necessary. It was bound to come about and if we use it well it can protect people from extreme abuse which is something I very much want to do.
My Lords, it is a particular personal pleasure to thank the noble Lord, Lord Soley, of Hammersmith in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, because I had the pleasure and privilege of being vicar of All Saints, Fulham, from 1972 to 1981, when he was a very active councillor on Hammersmith and Fulham Council and a Member of Parliament for part of the area in which I served. As many of us know, he has very wide experience, not just as a probation officer, but also through a wide range of interests both from his local council days and from the time when he was in the other House. He will also bring a lightness of touch to our debates. I believe I can say on behalf of the House that we are extremely grateful that you have been banged up. May you be banged up for a very long time.
I very much respect and value privacy—my own and that of other people. Nevertheless, I cannot bring myself to oppose identity cards in principle. The Government already have access to a great deal of information about us, to which the noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington, has already drawn attention, much of which is widely available in the public realm. I do not object to such information being collated and centralised on an identity card if such cards are really in the public interest and if they really serve the interest that they set out to serve. But as many other noble Lords have already asked, will they achieve their stated purpose and will they do so without significant detriment to other aspects of public interest?
The Home Affairs Committee points out that many democracies have identity card schemes without detriment to civil liberties, but the effects depend on the details of how such information is used and disclosed. Much of that is dependent on the future use of the Secretary of State's powers to regulate through secondary legislation, which itself is a large extension of executive discretion.
Many anxieties have been voiced about function-creep, notably by Richard Thomas, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury. The Information Commissioner will certainly be expected to know about these matters.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights, in its fifth report of 2005, expressed a number of anxieties about whether and how the operation of the scheme will be limited to its stated statutory purposes in respect of the personal information to be included on the register; the potential for information to be recorded without the knowledge or consent of the individual concerned; the making of contracts or services conditional on production of a card or access to the register; the potential for extensive data sharing in order to confirm information on the register; and the disclosure of information to public bodies without justifiable limits and safeguards.
It is also apparent that even without the introduction of compulsory registration, ID cards will effectively be compulsory for people in certain categories and circumstances, especially foreign nationals. It may be that we need some super-affirmative procedures, not just for introducing the compulsory nature of the scheme but for the use of some of the other powers of the Secretary of State.
How will the cards work in practice? The first public interest benefit is that of working against terrorism. It is estimated that two thirds of terrorists operate under their own identity, but others would still be able to create a false identity. What particularly worries me is the existence of a high-integrity scheme which might even strengthen the position of terrorists who are able to manipulate it. The Minister in opening said that identity cards would create obstacles for those who assist terrorists by providing funding, false identities and secret locations. I accept that, but if a terrorist obtained a false identity card, society would be put at an even greater risk.
The second public interest benefit is that it will help in the broader struggle against crime prevention, but we know that that is heavily contested. The Law Society argues that in crime detection the main problem lies not in establishing an individual's identity but in linking the individual to a particular crime.
The third and fourth public interest reasons are the aims of preventing illegal immigration and illegal working. But we know that they depend on employers operating identity checks conscientiously and efficiently. The prevention of identity theft and fraud must contend with sophisticated forms of counterfeiting and requires absolute security in the enrolment process. Given the number of people who work day and night in order to break into computer systems around the world, I suspect that already some people are trying to work out how they might devise false identities if the scheme is introduced. We are up against some sophisticated and intelligent people.
As has already been mentioned—I shall refer to it only briefly—the real worry is expressed by members of minority ethnic communities as regards the purpose of law enforcement, illegal immigration and terrorism. There is a real concern that that will mean even more targeting of black and Asian people. The earlier concerns echoed by the Home Affairs Committee, which have to some extent been taken into account by the Government, still exist in the minds of many people.
I shall not mention the other concerns because other people are much better qualified to speak on them. A great many problems with the technical operation of the scheme and its cost are often discussed and there is a huge disparity between the figures that we have heard from the Government on the one hand and the LSE on the other. I hope that by the end of this debate we can have some agreement about what the scheme will cost because it seems that it will be a very large amount indeed.
In conclusion, the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, said that he is very glad that he is not on someone's list, but we are already on a lot of people's lists. We need to take seriously what is in the public interest. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, does. In principle, I support the idea of identity cards, but more work clearly has to be done to convince people that they are in the public interest. The real worry is that if the scheme went wrong in certain areas it might do a great deal more harm than good.
My Lords, I rise to support the Identity Cards Bill but first I add my voice to the complimentary remarks of the right reverend Prelate about the outstanding maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Soley. It was no less than we would expect from a parliamentarian of his skill and experience. We look forward to hearing much from him in future.
I speak on the Bill as one who, in the course of my government service, lived for five years in Finland and three years in Sweden. Both countries are recognised throughout the world as vibrant, strong democracies with traditions of transparency equal to any democracy, including our own. Both countries have identity card systems with national identity numbers. In their cases, the numbers are given at birth and indicate date and place of birth and gender. We propose in the Bill to offer registration only to those aged 16 and over, which fits with our age of issue of an adult passport, the allocation of a national insurance number and the minimum school leaving age.
In Finland, there is an appropriate formula for incoming resident adult foreigners, as I was, as a diplomat. In Sweden, the system came in in the mid-1960s, largely at the urging of the police. It is compulsory to be registered and to have an identity number, but it is not compulsory to carry an ID card, although most people always do because it is such a convenient, useful, reliable and simple way to identify yourself at the bank, post office and so on.
Nordic friends are as bewildered as I am at some of the objections being voiced in Britain about identity cards. They wonder what there is to be afraid of, unless you are trying to hide something about tax, social security or something even worse and criminal. They also find it ludicrous, as do I, that we are asked currently to prove our identity by a variety of easily faked papers, such as utility bills.
It is seems to me that there are two serious aspects of security for individuals that would be addressed by the use of a national identity register and identity cards. The first is securing and safeguarding your own identity and rendering it as difficult as possible for anyone to steal it for minor or major crime. At the present time, identity theft is rife, as the impressive speech of the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, made so strikingly clear to us. I cannot be alone in this House in having had the horribly unnerving experience of being telephoned by my bank and told of unusual transactions being carried out apparently with one of my credit cards that I had all the time safely in my possession. Identity theft is disturbing for individuals who are targeted and might incur financial loss and also for society when, in addition to financial loss, which the Home Office estimates is costing the country some £1.3 billion per year, stolen identity is used for all kinds of criminal, including terrorist, activity.
A biometric ID card is a powerful addition to the defences of our identity, either when used alone or as undeniable corroboration of another instrument's validity.
The second aspect of individual security, which I have heard expressed by those from countries with ID card systems, is that it is disturbing and worrying to be in a country where the identities of those surrounding you cannot be assumed to be genuine because there is no rational and standard method for personal identity to be proved.
I turn to the question of costs. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, extolled the LSE claims on costs, which differ from the Home Office. I do not want to get sidetracked on to the details of those differences. Like the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, I would rather leave it to other people to argue the figures. But the LSE report contains a number of inaccuracies about the scheme—for example, it refers to a five-year document renewal and there are unsubstantiated assumptions like the marketing costs, which, I would submit, inflate the cost estimates rather unfairly.
I remind the House that the Bill is not making ID cards compulsory, although I have to say personally that I sincerely hope that that will in due course be approved by Parliament when the time comes. The estimated cost for a biometric ID card alone, valid for 10 years, which would allow travel throughout the EU as well as providing the advantages of having a recognised and reliable proof of identity, is £30. I do not think that that is excessive, and I am sure that when the ID card becomes compulsory, ways will be found to enable those who genuinely cannot pay £30 to obtain a card. The cost of a combined biometric passport and ID card is currently estimated by the Home Office to be about £93, of which some 70 per cent is made up of the cost of the passport; and, whether we like it or not, biometric passports are coming to stay in this country and others. I also remind the House that the manifesto on which the Labour Party stood and a Labour Government were elected last May, contained the following quotation—I use the quotation used by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and I completely fail to understand her problems with this wording—
"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 am not speaking about the Salisbury convention, or any other convention. I am saying to this House that we are, in this Bill, doing what we promised the British people we would do. I urge the House to accept that.
My Lords, I hope noble Lords will bear with me if I start with a little bit of history. I think that I have my old identity card somewhere. When I came across it a year or two ago, it was an unpleasant reminder of the post-war years when Britain was clinging on to war-time controls long abandoned by others. Identity cards did not long survive the arrival of the Conservative government in 1951, and when they were eventually abolished the general mood of the people was "Thank goodness, we are just getting back a little bit of the liberty which we willingly sacrificed during the war years". But I have to remind noble Lords—and I am sorry to say this in view of the excellent contribution by the noble Lord, Lord Stevens—what really hastened the demise of identity cards were revelations of abuse of power by the police.
In one case in 1951, Lord Goddard castigated the police for using powers passed to safeguard national security to require motorists to produce identity cards as a matter of routine whenever they were stopped on the road for whatever reason. In another case, two girls minded to spend the night in a hotel with men friends registered in false names and were prosecuted—mark you, prosecuted under a measure passed for reasons of national security. I do not think that anyone in the House today would be brave enough to say that under this scheme, such abuse would not take place.
The Government's aim is eventually to make it compulsory for everyone to be included on the national identity register and to have an identity card. How can it possibly be right to give the Secretary of State power to move from a voluntary to a compulsory scheme by use of secondary, rather than primary, legislation, even with the super-affirmative procedure? How can that possibly be right when the Government apparently take the view that this House would not be entitled to reject an order under Clause 7 to make the scheme compulsory? But that is what the Minister in the other place, Mr Burnham, said in Committee on the Bill on
Perhaps even more worrying is the fact that long before the Secretary of State makes the necessary orders under Clause 6, the scheme will have ceased to be voluntary by a sort of creeping compulsion. A citizen will not be able to renew a passport or a driving licence without registering under the scheme. As time goes by, the Government will no doubt use the order-making power in Clause 4 to designate other documents, such as TV licences and credit cards, as documents that cannot be issued without an entry in the register. Although Clause 15(3) specifically rules out making it compulsory to carry a card, the individual will soon find it very inconvenient if he does not. More and more organisations from banks to public libraries to department stores will decline to provide a service or supply goods unless a card is produced; and when the citizen is stopped by the police, it will look pretty suspicious if he cannot produce a card to verify his name and address, even if, in theory, the police cannot demand one.
I do not argue that no national identification scheme could ever be justified, but when the Government present to Parliament a Bill that gives the Secretary of State power to make no less than 61 statutory instruments; when they ask for enormously wide powers to collect and store on a national identity register information about every person in the land and then allow that information to be accessed by a wide range of public bodies; when they seek power to require the citizen to have a card and to pay the cost of getting it, and keeping it up to date, it is surely up to the Government to show not just that some benefit may come of it all, but that the scheme is absolutely necessary to meet the threat that the country faces and that the cost in terms of individual liberty and money is absolutely justified. So far, the Government have done nothing of the sort.
At times, it is said that the scheme will help the fight against crime. At Second Reading in the other place, the Home Secretary claimed that it would,
"help to prevent terrorist activity, more than a third of which makes use of false identities".—[Hansard, Commons, 20/12/04; col. 1945.]
But will it? We all know that the 9/11 terrorists travelled under their own identities, as did those who attacked Madrid, and the Home Secretary has admitted that identity cards would not have stopped the London bombers. Surely the real problem with criminals, terrorist and non-terrorist, is not one of identifying suspects but one of trying to catch and convict them. Strangely enough, as was made absolutely plain by the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, a short time ago, that is exactly what the police said when the Conservative government proposed an identity cards scheme back in 1995. The police also said—and their words were echoed by Mr Blair at the 1995 Labour conference—that an identity cards scheme would deflect financial and policing resources away from crime prevention and crime detection. Here is a quotation from none other than Mr Blair at Brighton in 1995:
"Instead of wasting hundreds of millions of pounds on compulsory ID cards, as the Tory Right demand, let that money provide thousands more police officers on the beat in our local communities".
Hear, hear, I am inclined to say.
The Government say that identity cards would help to prevent identity fraud. I wonder. Forging cards will be difficult, but the rewards of success will be all the greater as a result. The forged card will be of considerable value because it will be accepted as positive proof of the false identity, and the criminal industry of stealing and manufacturing identities will prosper as never before. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, will agree with me on that.
Everyone knows that benefit fraud is rarely a matter of identity. It usually involves lying about one's state of health, disability, dependants or earnings. This is what Chris Pond, a government Minister, said to the Home Affairs Committee in April 2004:
"Benefit fraud is seldom a matter of identity which is 'only a tiny part of the problem'".
The Government raise the subject of immigration control and illegal working by immigrants. That is pretty brave of them, considering the almost total disintegration of immigration control, with enough immigrants coming in last year to people a city the size of Leicester. The Home Secretary no doubt intends to use the Bill to show that he is doing something about that major scandal, when he must know that he is doing nothing and that the Bill will do nothing. Illegal immigrants are usually either people smuggled in without valid documents or people with valid documents overstaying their leave to be here. As for illegal working, employers are supposed to require documents now. They are supposed to ask anybody who comes to work whether he has a national insurance number. But they do not ask and they will not ask.
On costs, as many noble Lords will know, I have unhappy memories of the community charge, and I would not wish the same trouble on any of my successors. But if the scheme goes ahead, the Government will have created their very own plastic poll tax. The scheme, we are told, will involve the biggest computer contract in western Europe for 20 years, and we know what has happened to other vast projects. The NHS computer scheme was originally predicted to cost £1 billion; it is now the subject of estimates ranging up to £30 billion. The Government recently estimated the set-up costs of this scheme at £5.8 billion. That in itself is almost double what Mr Blunkett said only a year ago. We are told that that would mean a charge for the combined passport and ID card of £93 and £30 for the card alone. That would be burdensome for some, particularly when to it must be added the cost of travel to the place where the card must be issued, the charge leviable when the card has to be updated as a result of, say, a change of address, and the penalty of up to £1,000 payable when a change of circumstances is not reported.
But of course nobody thinks that in the event the cost of the card will be limited to anything remotely like £30. The LSE study puts the launching costs as, at the very lowest, £10 billion, and at the highest, £19 billion—nearly four times what the Government have said and which means that the charge for a card and a passport would be between £200 and £300, with perhaps a third of that for the card alone.
Personally, I find it extraordinary that the Government should be planning to charge the citizen anything for a piece of plastic that they insist on thrusting on to him whether he wants it or not, let alone to charge him the punishing sum being suggested by respected experts. But more generally, if they want this Bill to reach the statute book they have got to make a far better effort than they have thus far to explain why these enormously wide powers are necessary and how they are going to avoid the cost of the scheme spiralling out of control.
My Lords, as the first speaker from these Benches since the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Soley, perhaps I may add my congratulations to him on a very refreshing and thoughtful speech. Those of us who have known and admired his work over the years were not at all surprised by that. I hope that we shall hear from him often.
Most of the contributions to this debate have been and will be about the merits and/or disadvantages of an identity card scheme. However, I want to confine myself much more closely than that. I want simply to speak about the potential constitutional implications of such a scheme and the appropriate safeguards that we might wish to put in place against its abuse. That will allow me to be relatively brief.
I have no doubt that the Constitution Committee, of which I have the honour to serve as chairman, has among its members both supporters and opponents of the notion of ID cards, but for the life of me I could not tell the House which are which because that has not been the subject of our discussions. Whatever our individual point of view, all of us were agreed—on a cross-party and no-party basis—that this Bill fundamentally adjusts the relationship between the citizen and the state. How could it be otherwise when it will put the state in possession of an unprecedented, consolidated file of information about every individual which it did not have before? However, the Government do not agree. In her generous letter sent to myself and to other members of the committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, dismissed the notion that the Bill could be considered as constitutionally significant for the reason we gave. The burden of her response was that the scheme should be treated as an administrative change not dissimilar in kind from other data collection schemes the Government have put in hand from time to time. On the face of it, that is a straightforward disagreement, but I invite noble Lords to consider, in an instance like this, whose judgment should be trusted.
I yield to no one in my admiration for the noble Baroness. She is always extremely persuasive and convincing. I mention the Home Office with some hesitation when following a very distinguished former Home Secretary in this debate. Here is a great department of state with many qualities, but I doubt whether any noble Lords, looking back over the years, would think of the Home Office primarily as a bastion of the defence of human rights and individual liberties. Possibly there might have been a brief, golden exception during the period of tenure of the late Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, but despite the qualities of the Home Office that is not the first thing we think of. On the other hand, your Lordships set up a Select Committee on the Constitution to function expressly as a watchdog, and now we have barked. What is more, we seem to be barking in the same key as the Information Commissioner and the Law Society.
Our concerns centre far more on the notion of the register than on whether individuals are required to hold an identity card. I invite the noble Baroness to take on board legitimate concerns about the concentration of extensive personal information in the hands of the Government, particularly in an age when that is made more potent by the advances in technology and data storage, which allows data to be mined and cross-referenced with ease and which lends itself to fishing expeditions of one kind or another. We must be very careful that we do not reach a point where the citizen and his or her life are at the disposal of the state rather than the other way round.
Let me quote briefly from our report, which I know many of your Lordships have read. It states:
"we nonetheless continue to believe that it is important to ensure, irrespective of the Bill's merits or the benefits claimed for it (issues which are beyond our remit), that the scheme is conducted upon a strong legal basis and that adequate safeguards are in place to protect individuals from excessive intrusion into their affairs by institutions of State, or indeed by others—in other words, to 'future proof' it against the potential for abuse of the registration scheme by officials of the State claiming to act in the public interest".
The Constitution Committee therefore concluded that if this measure does command the support of Parliament—for security, crime or other reasons that have been given—three safeguards are essential. First—other noble Lords have referred to this—there should be no question of the legislation in the Bill authorising a seamless transition from an essentially voluntary partial trial to universal compulsory application without reverting to Parliament with new primary legislation. In her introductory remarks, the Minister invited us to consider the principle of compulsion now. With respect, we are considering compulsion now. That cannot be good parliamentary practice in general, but it is particularly inappropriate for a measure of this kind, with implications for every citizen.
The second safeguard is that a body independent of the Government should be the custodian of the national identity register, with proper safeguards to prevent improper access to data, whether by public servants or by others. Finally, we have suggested that the proposed National Identity Scheme Commissioner should be clearly independent of the Government, with the power to investigate complaints and a duty to report directly to Parliament.
Your Lordships will take differing views on this legislation—as is already apparent—but I invite you to consider these proposed safeguards. I hope that they will be helpful to our deliberations today and at later stages of the Bill.
My Lords, I wish to speak in support of the Bill and, in doing so, deal first with issues of principle and then move on to issues of practicality. I should at the outset declare an interest as president of the Association of Police Authorities but, as its members have not endorsed any agreed policy on identity cards, my views should not be taken to reflect those of the 45 police authorities which comprise the association. More significant in shaping my views on identity cards is the six years I spent chairing the Lancaster Community Safety Partnership, although, again, I am not speaking on its behalf today.
Let me start with the observation, already referred to, that we are living in a rapidly changing world which has two important characteristics—that is, it is global in scale and digital in technology. A growing number of organisations, public and private, desirable and less desirable, keep tabs on us through our mobile phones, security cameras, our store cards and our credit cards. Whether we like it or not, we are being constantly tracked and our privacy is being invaded to an extent we are certainly unaware of and by individuals we almost certainly do not know. Thus the environment in which we live our lives is very different from that of 30 years ago. That change in itself, in my view, necessitates a rebalancing of citizen rights and state responsibilities. It is for that reason that I have no problem with the principles underlying the Bill.
I know that my Liberal Democrat friends and others of a radical persuasion are opposed on principle to what they see as intrusive legislation which attacks our privacy and hard-won civil liberties. I know they argue that it will further weaken the rights of the individual in the face of an increasingly authoritarian government. I understand their concerns, but I do not share them. Furthermore, as a historian, I find the recent assertion by a Front-Bench Tory spokesman in the other place that this legislation represents the greatest threat to our liberty since the Norman Conquest ludicrous. A greater threat than Napoleon or Hitler? How can I, most of whose family was murdered by the Nazi state, take such an argument seriously?
On the basis of recent experience, my concern is not about a Big Brother state. My concern is to stop criminals stealing my identity to spend my money and cash my cheques, which they have had some success in attempting to do in the past three years. Figures show the full extent of this: there was more than £500 million worth of credit card fraud last year and £250 million of insurance fraud the year before, not to mention extensive benefit fraud. I want to intercept the plans of would-be terrorists who want to blow me up or poison me or find some other way to threaten my existence. So I want a strong state and an effective and efficient police and intelligence service, and I know that a lot of people in this country share my priorities.
Some years ago, there was a chorus of liberal and radical objectors in the area of north Lancashire where I live when the proposal to install town-centre security cameras was first mooted. They argued that the cameras would be intrusive, undermine and destroy our hard-won civil liberties, and create a Big Brother state. A modest number of cameras was installed and after six months, the clamour was of a different kind—of local people wanting more cameras and wanting them quickly. Their presence made people feel more secure—although, paradoxically, because they recorded some crimes that had never before been reported, reported levels of violent crime increased. They have proved their use in a great variety of ways, not least in the aftermath of the
For me, therefore, the issue is one not of principle but of practicality and utility. In what ways will ID cards be of benefit to the man in the street? Will they, as in the case of CCTV, make people in the area where I live feel safer? Will they enable people more easily to thwart attempts to steal their identities and their hard-earned cash, and to access the services to which they are entitled? I think they will and, perhaps equally importantly, one card will serve all these purposes and also satisfy the bank, the building society and any other body which wants to check that we are who we say we are.
Speak to residents in any one of the 21 European Union countries which have ID cards to find out what a range of uses they have and how indispensable they are. Millions of Europeans on the other side of the North Sea, as my noble friend has already pointed out, wonder what on earth we are making such a fuss about in opposing the concept of ID cards.
ID cards will also be of considerable help to the police, as we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, in investigating and reducing crime, bringing criminals to court and trying to break up organised criminal networks. I am sure that the Department for Work and Pensions will also find them helpful in cracking down on benefit fraud and on illegal working. I stress that I am not looking to exaggerate the role ID cards might play, that would not be helpful, but I am in no doubt that identity cards will have a great variety of benefits.
I have no problems with the concept, but I do have concerns about cost, both in overall terms and the cost to the individual, the feasibility of the technology involved and, most seriously, the scale of the project and how to ensure that the different elements are delivered within budget, on time and in a fully effective way. The recent announcement about a £30 charge for a stand-alone card has reassured me on the cost to the individual. It is a reasonable sum, which can be paid in instalments and there is time between now and 2008 to consider concessions for the most vulnerable and those on small fixed incomes. We must similarly ensure easy access to the centres where individual information will be registered in the first place.
The progress of the technology poses greater problems, especially for a lay person such as me, when experts are divided about how reliable and intelligent current biometric processes are. However, I note that a biometric assurance group is being set up by the Government, which will be chaired by the Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir David King. I welcome that, particularly when there are so many claims and counterclaims being made about the practicality or otherwise of iris scans and the biometric recording of older faces. I very much hope that this group will be able to give us regular reports on the efficacy of the technology and what we can realistically expect our cards to record reliably in terms of our unique personal details.
There is also the issue of how much detail needs to go on the database. There has been argument in the other place about recording addresses in view of the high percentage of the population, particularly younger people, who moved frequently. I shall be interested to debate in due course the best way of dealing with that issue.
My greatest anxiety is about the procurement process itself, because this IT project—as we have already heard—involving cards and a massive database, will be one of the biggest IT projects ever attempted. We need to ask how it will be scrutinised and by what processes it will be subject to internal and external review and scrutiny. We need to be assured that costs will not escalate and that there will not be scope creep or function creep. We also need to know how the substantial risks to the project will be assessed and continually kept under review. Recent history does not give us strong grounds for optimism on those points. We can all cite government projects whose costs have spiralled and whose IT systems could not cope with the demands placed on them. I want this scheme to succeed, but I need reassurance that the lessons of previous government failures in relation to large and expensive IT schemes have been learned.
I take comfort from the fact that the whole project will be dealt with in phases and that it will be three years before the first cards are issued. That incremental approach is the right one. It will give time to work systematically through the different elements of the programme, starting with the passport changes that are needed and then moving to link passports and ID cards. I hope that during that time it will be possible for parliamentary scrutiny in some form to oversee the process and that there will be full and open reports about progress. If the card and the database prove to be as useful to people as CCTV cameras have been for city centre surveillance, and if millions of people decide that they do want to have them sooner rather than later—which would not surprise me at all—I hope that the systems then in place will have the capacity to deliver quickly and accurately and to satisfy public demand within budget.
For me, the bottom line is the needs of the citizen. The man in the street will be the major arbiter of this project. When it proves to be useful to people and brings the added value in their daily transactions that I am confident it will, when it makes people feel more secure, as I feel it will, I know that it will be successful and worth while. That is why it is so crucial to focus on minimising the practical obstacles and the major risk factors that we know will be an inevitable part of the project. I look forward to debating these issues further in Committee.
My Lords, as someone old enough to have grown up in the company of what seemed a useful and quite friendly wartime identity card, I had not until now worried too much about the Bill. At the various stages of discussion of the Government's plans, I thought, "Oh well, this is inevitable" and did not even worry too much when my party changed its point of view on the subject. Now, however, having read this Bill—particularly the part relating to the register—I am deeply anxious. If more of the 70 per cent of people who, the Minister told us, are happy about the Bill read and understood the section about the register, they too would be anxious.
I want to speak, perhaps rather more innocently than speakers to date who have been great experts on the subject, about how I suspect the public will feel about the system as it develops. The trouble, as so often, is that we have had an over-use of spin. The Government, having been persuaded that modern living and protecting our shores requires a Bill such as this, have produced a draconian set of proposals, doing so with the soothing, reassuring spin at which many of them are so expert.
There is not much new here, we are told. Our names are already on all sorts of computers in the public and private sectors. We do not mind registering births, deaths and marriages. This will simply be an extension of that sort of system. We have heard a lot about how almost all the European countries have such a system. We do not know whether they have measures like the register, but we are told that they have cards. In any case, it will begin as a voluntary affair. It is only an enabling Bill, a small step in modernisation; we have heard all that.
The Quakers have a motto: "Tell power the truth". During the Bill's passage through another place, honourable Members—including, to their enormous credit, many on the Government Benches—tried to tell the Government the truth about the Bill, but the Government succeeded, just, in whipping the Bill through. Now the responsibility passes to noble Lords. I just hope that those on the Benches opposite—those who are with us now and those who will be thinking about the Bill—will have that courage, if they feel as I do and as their colleagues did in another place. The truth that the Government must be told is that the Bill as it stands is not a small step, as they claim, but a huge one, which, if taken at all, must be taken with enormous care and many safeguards, which are not in the Bill at the moment.
People will be very surprised when their fingerprints are taken and their eye characteristics are photographed. They will not be surprised at an ordinary photograph of their face; they are used to that. They will be surprised when they find that they are all going on to a central computer to which many people will have access, and that that record on the computer belongs to the government of the day, whatever sort of government they are. They will be surprised when everyone is obliged by law to keep that information up to date, and, if they forget to do so, there are heavy penalties to be paid. They will be very surprised when it turns out that some will be asked to give information about other people for the purposes of the register.
They will be surprised that the Government will be able to change the personal details that will be required and that that can be done without all that much discussion in Parliament. They will be pretty surprised when they find that, eventually, they absolutely have to buy an identity card, particularly if they do not have a passport. And they will be surprised when they have to produce that card. They may not have to carry it—we are told that they will not have to—but they will have to produce it as you do a driving licence and that may happen quite often. I think that they will be surprised when they discover that the identity card does not belong to them although they bought it. It will belong to the Secretary of State and the government of the day and will go on belonging to that government, whatever sort of government they are.
People are going to see this as a huge step. It is of a completely different order from going along and registering births, deaths and marriages. Incidentally, when the Government tried to put births, deaths and marriages on computer, they tried to do so not by going through all the stages in Parliament but by a regulatory reform order. The two committees in another place and in this House that are responsible for scrutinising those orders came to the conclusion that even the computerisation of births, deaths and marriages was not a simple matter. They sent those orders back to the Government, and the Government are presumably now wondering what to do about it.
We all know how unsettling and even threatening it can feel if a computer makes a mistake and it is claimed that we do not exist or that we have given wrong or insufficient information. Computers do make mistakes, and government computers seem to make rather a lot of them. Imagine thousands of people—hundreds of thousands of people—whose honesty is questioned or whose benefit or hospital place is questioned because a Secretary of State is apparently doubtful whether they exist at all or are being truthful. That is how it will be seen. It happens now, and it will be even more threatening when it happens under this system. We shall wonder whether it is true that we are a country where one is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
It is not surprising that the Scots Parliament and the Welsh Assembly have decided for the moment that they do not want to use identity cards as the means of admission to the services for which they are responsible. The Scots Parliament has accepted that it is a reserved matter, but it affects its services and it does not want identity cards to be used for those services. Whether that will continue to be Scottish opinion remains to be seen, but I do not think that it is at all surprising. I know that my noble friend Lord Northesk will have more to say about that.
There is plenty of detail to be examined in the Bill, but there is one major change that I feel we must make in this House—it was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Holme. His committee, the Select Committee on the Constitution, has suggested that the register, the identity cards and the operation of the system should be taken out of the Government's hands entirely and given to an independent body—an independent registrar or whatever. That would do an enormous amount to comfort the public about the rather threatening nature of what they are going to discover they have to do under the Bill. I do not think that it will do the whole trick, but it would certainly help. The Government and Parliament would still control what the system was, but the operation of that system—the voice of the computer and the querying of one's integrity or one's very existence—will be the voice of an independent registrar. If the Government cannot see and agree to that, I hope that Parliament as a whole will insist. I hope that this House and another place will be very strong on the issue.
The Quakers are right: in this matter Parliament must tell power the truth, and the truth is very worrying.
My Lords, I begin by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Soley, on his maiden speech. It was delivered with such ease, fluency and panache that one could only sit there in awe. I cringe with embarrassment when I remember the halting affair that I gave about a year ago in my maiden speech. I suppose that in my defence I could say that I have never been a political masochist, as he seems to be.
Three main objections could be made to the introduction of identity cards, and they have been very well aired in the debate today. They are cost, technology and civil liberties. I say nothing about the first two of those except to make the important point that, in looking at cost, one should not just look at gross cost but at net cost. Net cost is the cost of introducing identity cards minus the savings that would accrue from the cases of fraud and other criminal behaviour that they would prevent. All the evidence shows that those savings would be considerable.
I believe, somewhat differently from my noble friend Lady Henig, that the main objections to the Identity Cards Bill are objections from the point of view of civil liberties, and that they are objections of principle rather than of practice. I wonder how many of my noble friends sitting here might feel a certain frisson of unease—although they do not seem to feel it—defending a principle that seems illiberal, as identity cards seem part of the authoritarian or totalitarian state. They carry the flavour of a society in which a policeman can stop you on the street and utter the notorious words, "Show me your papers". They carry the flavour of the secret policeman who knocks on your door in the middle of the night and carts you off to some unknown prison in the remote wastes. In eastern Europe before 1990 there was quite a good joke about that; it was not so much a joke as a pithy observation—Hansard reporters please note that I said "pithy" observation: "What is the definition of a democracy? A democracy is a political system in which someone knocks on your door at the dead of night and you think it is the milkman". We do not have milkmen any more, or most of us do not, but noble Lords will get the gist.
It is incumbent on anyone who would defend the Identity Cards Bill and who would assert the importance of identity cards to show that the range of substantive freedoms and forms of social protection that we expect from the state would be greater with the introduction of an identity card scheme, especially a compulsory identity card scheme, than they would be without it. I believe that it is possible and necessary to do that.
The backdrop to this is changes in our society which, as a sociologist, I feel reasonably competent to comment on. The big change of our times is the impact of globalisation in our lives. The Prime Minister in his speech to the European Parliament last week spoke of the need to respond to the challenges of globalisation. Indeed, the European summit was about that same issue. Globalisation is the most signal set of changes affecting our lives in contemporary times and has completely transformed our societies over the past 20 to 30 years. What does it mean concretely? Concretely, it means an enormous flow of electronic money, information, people and goods across state boundaries. Globalisation means that our society is penetrated by the outside world far more deeply and more frequently and enters more fully into the very detail of our lives, as other noble Lords have said, than was true for any previous generation.
As we know, such amazing changes bring many advantages. One of those advantages is travel. There is such a difference between the generations in that regard. My parents went abroad only one day in their entire lives, and that was a day trip to Ostend. They made sure that they got back before darkness fell. Last year, it is reckoned, 185 million people passed through airports in the United Kingdom. That is an extraordinary influx of human traffic, but the most important traffic is electronic traffic, computerised traffic, as my noble friend Lady Henig said.
Globalisation has those advantages, but it also has an inherent dark side that bears very much on the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Stevens. The global drugs trade, for example, costs the global community as a whole $450 billion a year, which is more or less equivalent to a medium-size economy such as Spain. The money-laundering market costs $2 trillion a year. Most of that money belongs to us, the taxpayer, the citizen, or the wider society; it has simply been appropriated. Most recycled money in money laundering should have been going for tax purposes across the world.
Then there is the impact of international terrorism. In other speeches that I have made in your Lordships' House, I have tried to stress the essential difference between global terrorism and the sorts of terrorism that we have been familiar with in the shape of the IRA or the terrorists in the Basque country. The most important difference is that we are dealing with global networks; a vast flow of people using modern technologies. Al-Qaeda has cells in something like 80 countries and, according to the 9/11 report produced in the United States, it has some 8,000 people across the world who are prepared to act as suicide martyrs. It is simply a different scale and intensity of threat than anything that we have faced before, especially if you add on the possibility of the use of weapons of mass destruction.
I have no doubt that, when surrounded by an appropriate framework of policing and safeguards for our civil liberties, identity cards will help us do two things. First, as other noble Lords have said, they will help us to assert our identities, which is important in a fast-moving, much more impersonal, information-driven environment than anyone has had to live in before. Now when you buy a house you must show a passport, although we have heard that passports can be fairly easily forged. It is important that you show a passport because of the problem of money laundering and the pouring of money into property in London and other areas of the country.
Secondly, I have no doubt that identity cards will be an important protective device against the dark side of globalisation, which I have mentioned and which no one should assume can be easily managed. It penetrates to the very heart of our lives. The most important civil liberties issue concerns compulsion, and the Bill supposes that compulsion will at some point become part of the framework of law within which it is applied. The organisation Liberty recently produced an interesting pamphlet In Freedom's Name, which discussed the principle of compulsion. One of its main arguments is that 44 million people have data on a centralised database controlled largely by the Government for driving licences, credit cards, or passports. However, they are voluntary not compulsory, and the pamphlet argues that the compulsory principle infringes on civil liberties.
The argument is specious. You could, of course, choose to live a life where you never drove a car. You could choose to live a life where you did not use anything other than cash; and you could choose to live a life where you never went abroad. But that is not the kind of life that most of our citizens want to live. They want to take advantage of the very freedoms that the opening up of our society and the extension of the information bases in our society make possible for us. It is extremely important to argue that the assertion of identity is a mechanism of freedom, not simply a mechanism of repression. That is more and more the case the more we deal with a whole range of informational databases that circulate in and out of our lives.
The Bill is necessary, but of course it must be surrounded by democratic safeguards. Those safeguards are not primarily provided by lawyers or by judges. Any authoritarian state will find means of controlling its citizens whether or not they have identity cards or internal passports. A democratic state, by contrast, will look first to the liberty of its citizens, to the protection of its citizens and to the empowerment of its citizens. Having studied the Bill in detail, I am convinced that it will lead to those things and that therefore the net balance of substantive freedoms is a positive one.
My Lords, a moment ago the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, said that it was not for lawyers or judges to protect individual freedoms, but for a democratic society to do so. It is an interesting thought that, in April this year, there were protests in Shanghai aimed at the Japanese consulate. The point causing the protests was that, in the view of the people of China, Japanese textbooks played down the Japanese atrocities in the last war. At first, the government of China appeared to support the protests because it was part of their policy to do so, but after about a fortnight they got nervous, and hundreds of policemen turned up at Tiananmen Square. To do what? To check and record the numbers of the identity cards of people who were out to protest. It was a method of controlling their protest, so that people would know that if they wanted to take to the streets for any reason—whether the government supported it or not—they were marked people and the government would know who they were. Imagine if that were to have happened during the march against the war prior to the invasion of Iraq, and what riots there would have been in this country if the police had set out to mark and number the identity cards of people taking part in that protest, or indeed any protest that has taken place over the past few years.
The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, made huge claims for identity cards. They were apparently the answer to globalised crime, and would prevent terrorism, forgery and fraud. It seemed rather like saying that the possession of a driving licence would prevent road traffic offences.
My Lords, that is right. Nevertheless, the claim was put forward that if there was policing—just as there was in Shanghai and in Tiananmen Square by the Chinese police—all those problems would be solved. Those of us who practise in the criminal courts treat that sort of suggestion with some reserve.
It is said that the Bill will protect my identity. I think that it hands over the control of my identity to a central government database. As my noble friend Lord Holme put it, it puts my identity at the disposal of the state. It is not just the basic information that will be on the database; it will be cross-referenced by numbers to my medical records, tax records, work records and—if I have them—criminal records. The history of this country is a struggle against authoritarian regimes such as those of Napoleon and Hitler, and against collective societies for individual freedom. Knowing the history of the party represented opposite, it strikes me as strange that it should set about creating an instrument that may be manipulated in future for authoritarian reasons. Knowledge is power, and we are putting power in the hands of a government who may in future have the most malign intentions.
Why do I say that? Under Clause 19, data that I have provided to the central register may be handed over without my consent, and without my knowledge, to the intelligence services—much good it will do them. It may also be handed over to the police, the tax authorities—that could be a little more interesting—the VAT authorities and any designated government department. I simply will not know if the information collected about my private life has been handed over to all those government departments to use as they will. Clause 14 is about the provision by the Secretary of State of registrable facts for verification with consent, so if I consent certain pieces of my private information may be handed over to accredited organisations. As the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, said, that could be a mortgage provider, a bank or a retailer. When I want to buy something or get a loan, I have to give the answers to questions that are held in the database. I really would object in Sainsbury's to having to tell the person behind the till my mother's maiden name. As it was Jones, it would not help anyone very much in Wales.
The other matter that concerns me is whether the register is accurate. I would like to see clearly set out in the Bill a right for the citizen to see what is on his file. I recall that secret files were at one time kept on lawyers by the Lord Chancellor's Department. A colleague of mine suffered for many years from information that he subsequently discovered was on his files suggesting that, confused with me, he had lost eight successive general elections as a Liberal candidate. It held his career back enormously. Is the register accurate? Nothing in the Bill that I can see gives the citizen the right to see what is there.
Even though the citizen does not know what is on the register, he is under a duty on pain of a penalty of £1,000 to notify any inaccurate information that may be on the register—which he has never seen. He has to notify every change of address from the age of 16 onwards. Does anybody begin to appreciate the bureaucracy and form-filling that that means for students, who move from one address to another? He also has to provide the times during which he has resided in different places in the United Kingdom. For six months I am in Scotland and for six months in Wales, and then I move on somewhere else, but the times that I am in those various places have to be put on the register if it is to be accurate. Every change of name has to be registered. I do not think that that is a problem for my noble friend Lady Walmsley—should I now say, since a week ago, my noble kinsman?—as she intends to retain her own name. However, many people change their names on marriage, and will be under the penalty of £1,000 if they do not fill the form in and send it off to the register.
Forms, bureaucracy, cost—to what end? Surely a balance has to be struck. As a criminal practitioner, I do not see how the identity card will solve crime, dispose of terrorism and all the other things that are claimed for it. That is rubbish. I do not see what other benefits there will be for benefit fraud. As has already been said, in benefit fraud it is not so much identity that is an issue, but a person claiming when they are earning an income and so on. All that has to be weighed against the loss of my freedom. Why should the state know everything about me? How can I be manipulated in future—pressured to change my views, perhaps—by government departments because they have information about me that I wish to reserve to myself?
The public have given their support in opinion polls to the concept of identity cards, but I do not think that they have really grasped the problem. The problem is not the little piece of brown cardboard that the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, and I remember being carried around during the Second World War. It is not even a little card. It is the database behind it that tells the Government everything there is to know about you. Do the people of this country want that? Do they appreciate what the Bill is about? I give way.
My Lords, that is perhaps an unfortunate example because I gather that the records were not accurate in his case. That is the problem when the information on the central database is not accurate, and that makes my case. I shall not weary your Lordships any further.
My Lords, it is difficult to follow that. First, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Soley on a brilliant speech. Only he could do it in that style.
Obviously, most of the reasons that I shall give in support of identity cards will be based on my own experience. This ongoing debate about identity cards has been one of claim and counterclaim. Those who have championed the cards see them as a golden bullet that will eliminate terrorism and all crime. Those who oppose them see them as a monstrous diversion with the Government spending billions which would be better spent on better and more effective policing, and an enormous attack on civil liberties. As usual, in these situations, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
I see the development of identity cards as part of the ongoing technological evolution of our passport system. It is inevitable. Today, as my noble friend Lord Giddens said, because of globalisation our very way of life and the structure of our economy and society require the international movement of people to a degree that would have staggered our forefathers. The figures that my noble friend gave regarding the number of people travelling through airports were staggering. Of course, we need secure methods of proof of identity to facilitate, and not hinder, free movement. Driving economic and social integration, that freedom of movement is available to those with the good intentions of doing business, creating jobs and opening up markets, but it is also available to those with less noble intentions.
It is in that environment that I believe the question of identity and identity theft becomes a major problem. The explosion in information technology has made the world a much smaller place. When there was a paper trail, identity fraud was always possible but it was difficult. One irony is that, with electronic systems, identity theft has become a great deal easier. The scope for a catastrophic error over identity is greatly amplified by the information being passed through a computer. To some extent, new technology has been the source of the problem but it also has the power to be the solution. It is not the computer that is important; it is the way that data are entered.
In this new world, I believe that the move towards an electronic system of identity in the form of a national identity card system is an inevitable process. As someone who undertakes complex transactions internationally, proof of identity is one of those significant botheration factors with which one has to contend in every transaction. I am not complaining. The regulations and rules that have been put in place are there to protect me as much as anyone else. They are essential if we are to combat money laundering and illegal trafficking. But the problems highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, in relation to botheration will arise anyway. We should not be alarmed by this process. After all, our system of issuing passports has, over time, gone through a process of constant evolution.
Today, of course, as travel has become even more common and criminals have become ever more sophisticated, we are constantly trying to stay one step ahead of the criminals by developing our passports as ever more secure documents. However, as technology develops, the factors that we are able to use for identification purposes have expanded vastly. That is a good thing. The more factors we can employ in a person's identification, the higher the chance of getting it right.
Clearly, the statistical use of biographical data or biometrics has opened up some new possibilities. Biometric identification becomes possible with modern sensors and modern information technology. That is why biometric systems are sweeping the world. Already more than 30 countries have embarked on using biometric systems for identity purposes. As a technologist, I have no doubt whatever about the security of the system. Some of the systems that are being, and have been, developed are so sophisticated that a high degree of information is not needed for the unique identification of a person .
I am sure that noble Lords are well aware that since 9/11 extra levels of security have been demanded for entry into the United States. On entry into the US, all visitors have their fingerprints and facial biometrics recorded. That has had a knock-on effect across the world. Particularly for those of us who are non-Anglo-Saxons, even with UK passports, getting into the US is very time-consuming and seems to make us somehow more suspicious to the authorities.
It is not just the US where that happens. Except in India, I am a member of an ethnic minority wherever I go, and one gets used to the fact that one is always randomly stopped and searched in most advanced countries. That is not just paranoia. Recently on returning to the UK, I was asked by officials whether I could speak English. Naturally I said, "Yes, just a little". So is it any wonder that, even with my passport, I feel that my identity would be better demonstrated if I had a more secure and definitive identity document.
Biometric identity cards are therefore a necessary part of a modern state's toolkit when it comes to protecting the citizen. What is more, they are also a necessary protection for the member of an ethnic minority who seeks to demonstrate his identity and his right to be in a particular place at a particular time. I am not averse to carrying identity cards all the time. In Britain, we have a tremendous record of letting people travel without let or hindrance, and that is something that we must protect. We need to be able to prove our identity wherever we may be. It is true that in many ways modern security requirements are the bane of our lives, but they are the necessary flipside of the enormous social and economic benefits of globalisation and freedom of movement.
I know that, for many, the very thought of having to carry proof of identity is offensive. Yet only the other day I was caught without any identification when I tried to pick up a parcel from the post office. As someone who does not carry his gas bill around with him, I had none of the necessary approved documents that would have demonstrated my identity, and that meant that I had to make a return journey.
The questions that we have to answer at this stage are really of a technical nature: what information do we need to keep on an individual; how secure is the information being stored on us; and, is the whole project feasible? That is entirely to do with vaulting in computers. It is not rocket science; it is purely a question of how we vault information in the computer and how we retrieve it.
Today, a huge amount of information or data are already stored on us. Someone asked why we should answer when asked for our mother's maiden name. If you do not give your mother's maiden name, you cannot get into some of the funds into which you want to invest. You will be asked your mother's maiden name and your date of birth before you do anything. Today, the information held on individuals has to be correct and the individual must have the right to know what is kept on his record. That is already the case under data protection legislation. That is very important. We all know that misinformation and plain untruths often travel a great deal faster than the truth.
We must have absolute confidence in the privacy and security of the national identity register. After all, if identity theft is a problem now, imagine what a problem it would be if an identity could be stolen from the register. It is vital to ensure that we have in place the necessary constitutional checks and balances and that both the accuracy of any register and its security are safeguarded. That is the role of the National Identity Scheme Commissioner. We must also remember that we are talking about an IT system and we must have an unprecedented level of security. It can be designed in such a way as to prevent failure and attacks in all forms, including data theft, disruption, distortion and corruption. Importantly, that will mean not subcontracting the work out to the lowest bidder, not allowing the private sector to use the register for commercial exploitation or outsourcing any aspect of the register, including data entry, to some low-cost foreign centre.
The final question is whether the project is feasible. I believe the answer has to be yes. We have the ability to manage large databases on this scale and they will be able to deliver the information we want quickly enough for it to be usable. It is also possible to build the necessary stability and resilience into the system to ensure full failure protection with zero downtime. After all, we cannot have a system which, when one arrives at Heathrow at 11 o'clock at night, says, "Your identity is occupied at the moment, please try later". There are ways to avoid pitfalls and to overcome the teething problems that any system will bring with it; that is by rolling out the system gradually and fine-tuning the processes and equipment as we go along, setting the parameters to the application. We have to understand the capabilities of this technology. Equally, we have to know what it cannot do and set ourselves the task of delivering a system that is effective but practical. If I have a fear, it is not that the system will not work, but that it will succeed beyond our expectations.
About five years ago, I was hospitalised—rushed into A&E at midnight. A young, overworked casualty doctor came to me and said, "Can you speak English? What is the matter with you, and be quick?". Fortunately, once diagnosed, I was quickly on the road to recovery. A national identity card would not eliminate rudeness, but I can see that there would be pressure to include on a successful identity system key medical questions, prescriptions, medical reports and, as we move towards genetic fingerprinting, our DNA.
As the Government face pressure to reduce the number of separate back-office systems for different government departments, pressure will mount for common data sets. Tax or employment information, VAT registration, and so on could all be incorporated into a data set. That is where the issues of organisation and the right to access documents becomes critical. That has nothing to do with the technical problems. There is a point where knowledge about a person becomes power over that person. That is the point at which we become a police state. I believe that when the Government ask to increase the amount of information centrally held on a person, that has to be decided by Parliament.
Lastly, on the issue of access, I am reassured that the mechanisms put in place to ensure security of access are now being handled very well. They are easily handled because some of the very secure information that is held in computers now is pretty secure, but what about when one is overseas? What access will foreign governments have to information about us? There are some, I am sure noble Lords will agree, who cannot be trusted with more than the basic facts of identification. I believe that those issues can be resolved as one of our ambitions is to protect our freedom of movement. However, we have to be conscious of how our systems fit into a complex international picture, where many countries will not be as technologically advanced as we are. I welcome the opportunity to raise these issues but, none the less, ask the House to support the Second Reading of the Bill.
My Lords, I wish I had the same confidence in technology as the noble Lord, Lord Bhattacharyya. When I was a member of the Conservative government in the mid-1990s we looked carefully at the potential for identity cards in the context of crime, social security fraud and immigration, but we drew back—rightly in my view—for reasons that remain all too true today and which we must test very carefully in Committee.
The first essential is to identify one's objectives. The Government have indicated five objectives at present: the potential benefits in relation to terrorism, crime, immigration, social security fraud and—most recently and most strongly today in a persuasive speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland—the fact that we would all love to have these cards to protect ourselves from the theft of our identities. I confess that that thought had not entered my heart but I shall ponder on it over the coming months to see whether it passes the test.
On terrorism, until I heard what the noble Baroness said today, I thought that the Home Secretary had conceded that it would have had no significant effect on the bombers of
On illegal immigration, a card is already provided for asylum seekers, but I would have thought that it was entirely clear that the real way to tackle illegal immigration is much more likely to lie in having more police, more and better trained immigration officers with better equipment and a general will—if any will currently exists—to tackle the problem of migrant workers which is rife in so many areas.
In relation to social security, the Government acknowledge that identity is relevant in only a very tiny proportion of cases—fewer than 5 per cent. Fifty million pounds is quite a lot of money, but it is not a lot of money in the context of the huge sums that the Government admit they are proposing to spend, let alone the much larger sums that careful independent commentators believe that they will have to spend. I seriously fear that identity theft could be exacerbated by what is proposed in the Bill. Primarily, I see it as a matter for the commercial credit card companies and insurance companies. The figure quoted of £1.3 billion seems to cover a very broad spectrum of dishonesty in which identity does not play a major part.
On costs, the Government must face up squarely to the massive problems of cost, technology and overall practicality. If they fail to convince the public on this, we shall experience exactly what happened in Australia where, in the year before we began to consider it, it was wildly popular; they then introduced the system and within 12 months 90 per cent of the population had turned against it very strongly. As I understand it, they have dropped the system.
In Committee we shall have the opportunity to confront the Government with a well thought-out and well expressed comment on the 300-page report produced in the summer by the London School of Economics, which has now been updated, and which has been mentioned by a number of noble Lords. As we know, the Government have said that the basic card will cost £30—they can fix the price, but cost and price are not the same thing—and that then becomes £93 in connection with a passport. I suppose we can live with that but that is a considerable burden on many people. The Law Society estimates an overall cost to taxpayers over 10 years of £8 billion and the authoritative LSE report puts the figure significantly higher—something between a low of £12 billion and a high of £19 billion. Those are very serious sums indeed.
I believe that there are serious practical problems with biometric characteristics: fingerprints, facial characteristics, the irises of our eyes and DNA. From the way the debate has gone today, DNA does not currently appear to be part of the Government's thinking but it is certainly provided for in the Bill if they wish it. The noble Lord, Lord Stevens, who is not in his place at the moment, showed great confidence in fingerprints. My understanding—and my recollection from my period closely involved with criminal justice—was that the analogue system of fingerprints then in use was remarkably accurate, but in relation to this Bill we shall be using a digital system. Commentators are indicating that that can fail in at least 3 per cent of cases. With particular types of individual—for example, those doing heavy manual work—and some ethnic minorities, fingerprints are even less accurate.
It is accepted that facial characteristics cause real problems in relation to disabled people. They require an update for everyone approximately every five years. Iris detection is only 91 per cent accurate and less so for partially sighted people, for those over 60 and for some ethnic minorities. This is serious. We are talking about 10 per cent of people—some 5 million—in this country for whom the iris test may not be accurate.
Then consider the interplay of cost and practicality. I urge noble Lords to read Clause 37; the Government's all-embracing charging system. Let us take the most simple aspect, mentioned by many noble Lords: the notification of change of address. It seems clear from the Bill that one will be obliged to notify a change of address. Forty per cent of Londoners change address every year. However, as a great many of us do not move home, it means that a significant number of people must change their address more than once a year, sometimes frequently. Indeed, one knows that with younger members of one's family and friends that is often the case.
Will it be a civil offence to fail to have registered your address? When the policeman gaining this huge benefit from the card stops a young man in Brixton and asks where he lives, will his address match with his identity? Will the identity card match with the last three addresses? If you fail to be identified, you will receive a civil penalty. That will probably be sent to a previous address and you will be out of time to appeal against the fine. The authorities will then seek to enforce the fine as a civil penalty. If you ever get respectable enough to want credit, you will suddenly find that you have a county court judgment against you and the bodies which keep records of every county court judgment make life very difficult indeed. I confess that I have known that happen once, and it took a long time to unscramble it, notwithstanding that the county court summons had never even been served.
Consider the effects on the vulnerable in our society. My mind goes both ways, but we must look carefully at what the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants says about these problems. How they bear on ethnic minorities will have a serious bearing on the feelings in society and, consequently, on the sense of belonging or not belonging, which is so important if the fight against terrorism is to be successfully carried on.
We must tease out of government what is really meant by "voluntary" and "compulsory". It seems clear that the card will be compulsory for everyone who wants a driving licence and for everyone who wants a passport. The Minister's own figures indicated that that would be 80 per cent of society from 2008. Therefore, I can just see the argument: "It is compulsory for 80 per cent so why should it not be compulsory for the lot?". If the Government are still in office, that is the argument that will be deployed in a short time.
On function creep, we are rightly reminded of the Second World War when the purposes of the free identity card being issued to everyone rose from the initial three to 39 before the cards were abolished by Sir Winston Churchill's government in 1952, to no adverse affect at all. This is the 21st century and the situation is entirely different, but we got rid of the cards then to no adverse effect.
Furthermore, we should not overlook the problems of forgery. The wonders of high technology that were rightly referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Bhattacharyya, are not only in the hands of the great and the good. The criminal elements are extremely skilful particularly in IT forgery. Israel, which uses identity cards—I will be corrected if I am wrong—with a population of perhaps less than a third of our own, estimates that no fewer than half a million forged identity cards are in circulation.
Finally, we must look carefully at the constitutional issues. As soon as we start to talk about those and the citizen's relationship with the state, one tends to glaze over, but authority has the ability to know where everyone has been and to recognise every use of the card. Most citizens worry enormously if they have done something wrong—something quite small produces a serious worry. You may have failed to register your address or you may have given a wrong address, possibly in a small way even dishonestly. Someone who is not normally dishonest can behave stupidly. The more intrusion there is in the system, the less people will feel free. We must pay attention to noble Lords whose families came to this country and said how wonderful the sense of freedom was. It is something precious in our society and we should take great care to heed not only the advice of the Joint Committee on Human Rights but also of Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner. I had a great deal to do with him during my years in government and I have great respect for his good sense and good judgment.
In conclusion, the position remains that the worthwhile purposes for which this massive scheme are said to provide benefit have not yet been established. The potential threats from an unproven technology and the practical burdens on citizens are onerous. I am not saying that in some areas, taken step by step, some practical benefits cannot come from the new technologies and cannot with great care be achieved successfully. However, I am not sure that the Bill is the way to do it and we must examine it extremely carefully in Committee to see how far it can be improved.
My Lords, perhaps I may respectfully remind noble Lords that we are looking to finish later than ten o'clock because we are taking longer than 10 minutes for our speeches.
My Lords, it seems to me that two debates are taking place on identity cards. There is a debate on the Bill as presented before your Lordships today and there is also a kind of fantasy debate which is posited on all kinds of "what ifs"—"What if the Government did this, and what if these circumstances followed?".
Like many noble Lords, I have received representations from individuals who are concerned about the possibility of, say, the pass laws of South Africa of old being introduced in this country. I received letters conjuring up images of Orwellian futures. I remember one in particular signed by every member of a family, although it was slightly spoilt by reference to George Orwell's rather less-known work "1994". None the less, it was clearly heartfelt and strongly felt.
I had slightly assumed that in your Lordships' House we would be engaging not in the fantasy debate but in a debate on the legislation before us today. But the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, in his usual erudite style, conjured up all the same "what ifs" as some of those letters. He used cliché, classical allusion and techno-speak. He talked about the slippery slope, a Pandora's box, function creep—looking not at the legislation presented to us but at what might be in some fantasy future. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, who is no longer in his place, created an even more vivid fantasy in which he talked about the Government knowing everything there is to know about us. Well, they will not be doing so as a consequence of this Bill because it sets out clear limits on what can be included in the register.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, also spoke as though somehow the Bill was exempt from the existing data protection legislation and that somehow the right to know what data were being recorded as part of this process was being taken away from us. But, apart from one very specific exclusion that is contained in the Bill, I am not aware of any such exemption from the data protection legislation. So we are again dealing with the fantasy debate on the Bill, not with the real Bill.
I hope that in the remainder of this debate and in Committee we can focus on what is before us because there are issues that need to be addressed and fully understood. It is made clear in the Bill that there will be no requirement for individuals to carry their identity card. That is clear and explicit. Yet we have heard fantasies about it, some from organisations that have made representations but have clearly not read the Bill. I am a great believer in the sovereignty of Parliament as, I am sure, are your Lordships. If we believe in the sovereignty of Parliament then the fact that Parliament would have to change the legislation is surely the safeguard that we are looking for. It is also clear from the legislation just how limited the data set contained in the national identity register would be. I shall return to that point in a moment.
We as citizens must all want something that deals with the problem of identity theft and enables us, as individuals, to demonstrate that we are who we are. My noble friend Lord Bhattacharyya has referred to the difficulties that exist in demonstrating who we are. I have been the victim of identity theft on more than one occasion as, I am sure, have other noble Lords. They were not major incidents as far as I was concerned. Although they were time-consuming, they were not major problems. But many people have been subjected to the most appalling difficulties as a result of identity theft. But at the moment proving one's identity is something of a nightmare. The production of a utilities bill is becoming increasingly difficult for those of us who pay bills online or by direct debit. But in my case, even if I do produce a bill, of the two major utilities that provide services, one is convinced that I live in an entirely fictitious flat—admittedly at the correct address, but in an entirely fictitious flat—and the other has persisted in reversing my initials for 20-odd years. These are not major problems when simply paying for my electricity or gas, but when trying to open a bank account or do anything else that requires such bills, they magnify the problem. The ability to be able to say, "Here is the proof of my identity" in a form that is recognised and secure will be a boon for many people.
Concern has been expressed about the accuracy of some of the biometric tests that will be part of the identity card. What people are doing is aggregating the possible chances of error whereas we should be looking at the combination of the different methods. So even if there is a problem in reading somebody's iris, it will provide a secure, defensible and robust proof of that individual's identity when combined with the record of his 10 fingerprints and his facial recognition. It is the combination of factors in a biometric test, rather than an individual factor, that is important.
I hope that we can spend some time today and in Committee on the real debate about the content of the Bill. It may be a consequence of responding to the fantasy debate that has been going on for some while, but in a number of respects the Bill is too restrictive on the information that identity cards can contain. For example, the blanket prohibition on including criminal records or linking them to the national identity register is not necessarily appropriate. There is a perfectly valid argument for linking the register of sex offenders to the national identity register. There might be benefits for the community if there were ways of flagging up such individuals through the use of the identity process. As a citizen, I would welcome the opportunity to register additional information about myself as part of the national identity register. For example, if I have chosen to be an organ donor, I would like that to be recorded and extracted at appropriate times. It would be in the interests of the citizen for insulin dependency or allergies to penicillin to be recorded, yet at the moment they would be precluded by this legislation. I would like to see a system that properly records next of kin and allows that information to be more readily available when needed. It would not be beyond this House to look at some of those exclusions and to set out some circumstances in which, either with the voluntary agreement of the data subject or because of the overriding public interest, those exclusions could be minimised.
I simply believe that this legislation, and the proposals for an identity register that would enable me, as a citizen, to be able to demonstrate who I am when I need to, will be a substantial advantage to us as individuals. It will also provide a substantial benefit to government agencies and allow them to establish the identities of those who are seeking services or presenting themselves for other purposes. There has been much discussion of the costs and I am confident that we will return to that subject at length. But let us be clear that for 80 per cent of the population all that is being talked about here is coming anyway because 80 per cent of the population already have passports. I suspect that in 10 or 20 years most of the remainder will have passports as well because international travel will become more, rather than less, common. Biometric data are already required for passports. The Passport Agency already has a computer database that includes all the people who currently have passports. So these are things that are going to happen anyway and I cannot believe that the incremental cost of moving from 80 per cent to 100 per cent—if that is what we are talking about—is so insupportable. If those technological changes are going to happen, let us turn them into a benefit for all our citizens, for government agencies and for society in general by making use of them and making sure that we have a robust system that enables all of us to be able to demonstrate our identity.
My Lords, I apologise to the House for being absent at the beginning of this debate, but I had an atrocious train journey. The train was three hours late because of Railtrack or Network Rail—I am having an identity crisis with them.
I get a little weary of hearing complaints about the erosion of human rights and the diminution of civil liberties. Before your Lordships cry, "Shame", and say that I would say that as I was a police officer for 35 years, I state at the outset of my speech that I speak as an individual with a family living in this country who has no interest in creating a police state.
Let us look at civil liberties. All decent, law-abiding citizens in this country carry some form of identity, such as credit cards, driving licences or club cards of various types. What would be an infringement of my civil liberties would be for someone to steal my identity to access funds, services and facilities that I have worked and paid for all my life. Let us lay it on the line. An identity card scheme will give everyone legally resident in the UK a secure and reliable method of proving their identity. That is a real benefit because, as has been mentioned, identity theft is on the increase. I know that it is often argued that it is against British culture to have an ID card. That might well have been the case in the past, but we live in a global world that is getting far smaller. We have the ability to be at the opposite side of the world within hours, which is a facility that people with an ill disposition towards us, whether terrorists or just criminals, frequently take advantage of.
In view of this changing world, it seems to me to be common sense to have a national identity register coupled with a personal identity card. All lawful residents are recorded already on polling lists, national insurance registers, vehicle owner registers, driving licence records, passport records and so on. The problem at present is that the personal documents relating to these are all capable of being, and often are, forged.
The advantage of the proposed biometric identity card is that it does what the human brain has always been capable of; it identifies positively our human features. But technology allows us to go further by incorporating facial recognition with iris identification, fingerprints and perhaps—and this matter has been mentioned by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lyell of Markyate—characteristics of our DNA. These are features that even the most imaginative criminal would have difficulty in forging. I see no reason why any law-abiding citizen should object to these attributes being harnessed to make Britain a safer country to live in. I am confident in saying that the technology for a large-scale national identity scheme is available and proven. There are at least 40 projects in 31 countries involving identity storage, the majority incorporating the use of biometric details. If the UK decides to pursue such a scheme, technology will not be a limiting factor.
In any event, we are being pushed by events. It will be an international obligation to have facial biometrics on passports by 2006. All passport applicants will be interviewed as an anti-fraud measure and it will be a European Union requirement for biometric residence permits and visas for foreign nationals by 2008.
We are told that Spain already has identity cards and it did not prevent the horrific Madrid train bombs. Spain of course did not have the 13 separate new biometric features proposed by the Home Secretary; and in any event no one is arguing—least of all me—that identity cards are the magic bullet to prevent all evil. It is simply one strand of policy, albeit an important one, to provide law enforcement with the tools to do the job of preventing the type of serious and organised crime and terrorism that we now face.
The police are in favour of such a scheme and, having been in the police service for many years, I can well understand why. I can think of countless occasions when the use of false identity has allowed crimes to go unsolved and criminals to walk free to continue their lawless activities. I take the case mentioned previously in a question to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, of the Soham murders. Ian Huntley had changed his identity, which allowed him to obtain employment as a school caretaker. After the murders it allowed him to flaunt himself on television as an important "witness"—he was certainly that.
Detective Constable Stephen Oakes was stabbed to death by an Al'Qaeda member who was on the run and wanted by MI5. While on the loose the terrorist was arrested for shoplifting. He was fined and released without the connection being made to his real identity. It would be farcical if it was not so serious. The Times on
I could go on, but I think that the evidence is overwhelming. Most major arrests of wanted killers on the run are made by routine checks by patrolling police officers, in which the quick establishment of identity is absolutely critical. I think of Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper; Colin Jackson, who was arrested for drink driving but guilty of multiple rapes years earlier; Robert Black, the multiple child murderer; and Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma bomber, who was checked afterwards by a traffic cop.
How often are we required to prove our identity? It has been mentioned already: it is a fundamental requirement these days when applying for a job, travelling, opening a bank account or claiming benefits. The systems currently used are not foolproof. We read about fraudulent transactions. Nearly all the supporting documents we currently use are easily stolen or forged.
The very high level of verification being proposed by the Government in important transactions involves something you have—the identity card; something you know—the PIN number; and something you are—one or more biometric features—facial recognition, iris scan and fingerprints. I have already said that identity schemes based on biographical details and documents are relatively easy to falsify. Nor are systems based on one biometric detail 100 per cent foolproof, as has been mentioned by my noble friend Lord Harris. But of course the use of a combination of 13 physical and biometric technologies increases the accuracy of the system by cross-checking one feature against another at each stage, thereby reducing the possibility of falsification or error. The cumulative effect should make fraudulent applications and transactions extremely difficult, if not impossible. I think that that answers the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lyell of Markyate.
In my judgment, people opposing this legislation are out of tune with the average person in the street. Most of us in this country are very proud of who we are, our names, our family history and our identity. Those who choose to change their identity may well have a legitimate and valid reason for so doing. Perhaps they do not like their name. However, those who choose to hide their true identity are the ones we need to know about. A foolproof identity card system will stop them in their tracks and allow us all to sleep safer in our beds.
In my view the arguments in favour of the Bill are irrefutable. I commend it to the House.
My Lords, as the spokesman on children's issues on these Benches, I shall address some of the issues relating to children. Before I do so, perhaps I may say how much I enjoyed the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Soley, who is not in his place at the moment. I hope that he will read my remarks in Hansard, because I would like to warn the noble Lord against being misled by the contribution of women in your Lordships' House into thinking that the proportion of women here is any more close to the proportion of women in the general population than it is in another place. It is not. But examples such as the Minister and the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, may very well lull a new Member of your Lordships' House into thinking that it is other than it is. It is all the more outrageous because this is an appointed House and something could easily be done about it. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Soley, will take that on as a campaign during his career in your Lordships' House. I do hope so.
I turn to the Bill. What is the Government's purpose for this legislation in relation to children? I am not aware that we have had a rash of child terrorists, or a lot of people stealing the identity of children, or that many children have applied for benefits to which they are not entitled. I think that this is yet another symptom of a nosy and controlling state. The noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, said that if you have nothing to hide then you have nothing to fear from ID cards. I have always said about the Bill that the more innocent you are, the less right the state has to know, even less to control, what you do. That relates in particular to children.
First, why should children be forced to have ID cards? What advantage can be gained? The accepted definition of a child in this country is someone under 18, except for some vulnerable groups where the age is higher. Yet we find that 16 and 17 year-olds will have to have an ID card. The Bill also contains the power in Clause 2(6) for the Secretary of State to lower the current age of registration to any age. So that could include all children in future. Why does he need that power? How and why does he anticipate using it? We have as yet heard no rationale for that.
When a child is forced to submit to the collection of personal data and does not consent to the sharing of that data, that is a breach of Article 16 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and Article 8 of the ECHR, which provide children with the rights to a private and family life. Any interference with those would have to be justified in the public interest. If that interference is necessary in a democratic society to achieve the public interest and the measures taken are proportionate to that aim, the convention allows the state to do that. Article 8(2) of the convention allows public authorities to interfere with an individual's right to a private life only in the following circumstances: in the interests of national security; in the interests of public security; in the interests of the economic well-being of the country; for the prevention of disorder or crime; for the protection of health or morals; or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Which of those circumstances do the Government regard as legitimising their interference in the private life of a little child? Under Article 16 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the right to privacy requires that national legislation ensures that the child knows of the existence of information stored about him or her; knows why such information is stored and by whom it is controlled; has access to such records; is able to challenge and, if necessary, correct their content; and knows who else has access to those records. Those provisions do not seem to be being complied with in the Bill. Will the Minister explain how the Government intend to comply with the convention and how they will inform children of their rights and duties in that regard?
Secondly, what is the purpose of yet another register relating to children? There are already three databases: Section 12 of the Children Act 2004 provides for an information-sharing database; there is the Connexions database of 13 to 19 year-olds; and the national register of unaccompanied children. All of those contain a great deal of sensitive information about the child. How will those databases be related to the national identity register? Will information from them be available through the national identity register? If so, how can the NIR comply with the requirements of the Data Protection Act 1998 to have only the absolutely necessary information for the minimum length of time?
My third concern relates to the fact that people may have to use an ID card to access public services. In that respect, the Bill may discriminate against all children, who use public services more than adults. In particular, it may discriminate against asylum-seeking children. Unaccompanied children are usually given limited leave to remain until they are 18. That means that they cannot get an ID card, as they are neither British nor have the right to live here permanently. What will happen to them? How will they get access to those restricted public services? Again, that breaks Article 24 of the UNCRC—the right to access healthcare services. It would also affect children who have been abandoned by their families.
Finally, what about the cost of those cards for children? The Government have not yet been clear, but costs of up to £93 have been cited this evening. That would be punitive for most 16 and 17 year-olds and families on low incomes who have several children. The Minister may say that children do not yet have to have an ID card. However, the Government have linked ID cards with other designated documents, such as passports. In the past few years, legislation has laid down that all children must have their own passports from birth. Does that not mean that a child who wants to accompany his or her parents on a family holiday to Disney World in Florida would have to apply for both a passport and an ID card, and thus be subject to all the other concerns that I have just outlined? Is that not forcing children to get ID cards by the back door? There are major difficulties with biometrics for children.
There are many issues about the duty to supply and update information. As has been mentioned, what happens to children in care? Are they responsible for supplying changes in circumstances, or is it up to the local authority? Many of them frequently move from one foster placement to another—sadly, carrying their goods and chattels in a black bin bag. Who provides that information to the national identity register and who pays the fine if it is not done? Do young people at boarding school or college have to give their temporary address? Do children whose parents are divorced and who spend time with both parents have to give both addresses? What happens if a child cannot afford a fine of up to £2,500 for non-compliance? There has been no talk of affordable fines based on people's ability to pay.
Those are only some of the many issues relating to children's rights that give me great concern. I hope that the Minister can answer some of them.
My Lords, I have been thinking about this matter for a long time. I sit on the Local Authority Smartcard Standards e-Organisation, and we have been discussing identity management and efficiency in public service delivery for a long time. One thing that I realise is that the members of the public I have talked to tend to have muddled thinking about it, because they confuse the ID card and the proposed national identity register. They also confuse whether it is to be voluntary or compulsory—to own or to carry. The Bill will not produce a scheme that will fulfil the stated purposes.
The other muddled thinking about which I get upset is how identity theft is defined. Stealing a PIN number or a password is not identity theft; it is just straight theft. Nicking a credit card is straight theft. Stealing identity is when you impersonate someone for much greater purposes. I shall not go into that any further.
We have cause for concern, and concern spreads across the globe. We should consider a Bill introduced to the House of Representatives on
"Benjamin Franklin stated: 'Those who would give up essential Liberty to purchase a little temporary Safety deserve neither Liberty nor Safety'".
The old refrain "Everyone else has one, so I want one too" makes us sound like a spoilt child. In France in the middle of the 19th century, only the British, or the English, could move around freely, along with the crooks and the officials. If we consider how the card is to be rolled out, we see that it is the working, travelling, taxpaying wealth creator who will be forced to register first; they need passports, and so on. It is the dubious characters whom we want to catch at their nefarious practices with whom we will catch up last—probably in about 15 years, given the roll-out plans.
What is the purpose? Is it national security? People have dealt with many of those matters already. We need good intelligence. We have GCHQ, sometimes called CESG. Those people can already track you through communications records, if they really want to. They need human agents on the ground; they need money. Is it prevention and detection of crime? How does a plastic card stop a thief or a murderer? I thought that they used them to slip open front doors on the latch. Is the database of fingerprints to be used to replace the police database? That might be useful. Is it immigration control? What will they do: cordon and search? That was very unpopular by 1952. You would be pretty cross if immigration officers wrecked your anniversary dinner party to try to arrest a couple of Chinese waiters. The noble Lord, Lord Stevens, talked about the idea that people could say, "Stop. Where do you live?". The ID card does not tell you that; that is sitting on the national identity register and cannot be divulged easily because there are many vulnerable people and you cannot give their addresses out willy-nilly—certainly not just to a police constable on the street. For that to work, the card must be compulsory to carry.
Refugees do not need new ID cards, as has already been said; they have biometrically linked ID cards. What about illegal working? We have the national insurance number registry, which contains many more people than the working population, but so it should. It contains all retired people, many of whom have also emigrated. We must pay their benefits. It contains all the people who have come over here on one-year and two-year visas and gone abroad again. They may come back, so we cannot destroy their numbers until we know that they are no longer alive and in the system. So of course we have greater numbers, and the proposals will not alter that fact.
The IND database will be checked for illegal working. Will it be up to date? If I am given permission to work, will that be updated on a daily basis or will I have to wait a week or a month while they take their records, sometimes by courier van, I believe, from Croydon to the Midlands to get it up to date?
There are 3 million to 5 million small and medium-sized enterprises in this country, which creates huge potential for working illegally. Illegal workers will probably be cracked down on the most. If an obvious foreigner presents himself for employment, he will not undergo a biometric check; instead, a PIN number will be used to validate the card. Do not try to tell me that 20 foreigners operating as a gang would not pass around one card with a PIN number, so that each verifies himself each day. If it is not compulsory to carry a card, it will be possible to get away with such fraud. It would be cheaper to let those people work, pay their taxes and get them out of the benefits system. I think that the Conservatives introduced that—so you can score one over the Conservatives again.
Another declared purpose of the national identity card is the effective and efficient provision of public services. I do not call spending £0.5 billion a year to save £50 million on duplicate benefit fraud a return on investment. On coming into power, Labour scrapped the Conservative benefit payment card on the ground that it was too difficult to computerise 20 million claimants—interesting. Local authorities tend to deliver many, if not most, of those public services—that is why we have been worrying about it for so long—but they are not allowed to piggy-back on this card. It would have saved us a fortune if we could have done, but nothing is to be piggy-backed on to the national identity card.
Access to free national health was mentioned. The health service is producing its own card. It will probably interest the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, to learn that much of the information that he wanted is to be kept on that card. You do not need it stored on a national identity card. What about speedier CRB checks? How would that be possible? All the biometrics would have to be uploaded up line. The NI biometrics are not held on the card; they are held centrally. Only the ICAO travel ones are held on the proposed card. They are sent up line, so I do not see how this proposal will save a lot of time—it is done at present.
It is argued that access to other government services will be made easier. Farmers have to interact with public bodies frequently, but their fingerprints are often rubbed off, so they are a problem group. Woe betide a brown-eyed African farmer: he will have a lot of trouble, as the eyes would probably be difficult, too.
It is claimed that it will be possible to open a bank account with a single ID card. You still need proof of address under the anti-money-laundering rules. Until those rules are changed, the identity card will be no good; otherwise, you could use a driving licence to open an account. It is compulsory for holders of a driving licence to give notification of a change of address, so why cannot they currently use their licence to open an account? That is because it is known not to work. Why would it work for the NI registry? Perhaps the civil penalty of £1,000 will be enforced better. Will more people be locked up? At least you will know where they are.
I wish to outline the dangers involved in the legislation. It will be possible for authorities to monitor who you mix with. That is really what it comes down to. Road-user charging is proposed. We know that you cannot charge a vehicle—that is the problem with the insurance documents displayed on the car windscreen—so you must charge a person. It is proposed that drivers pop their ID card in the car so that the authorities know where they are and can send them a bill. They will know who you are, who you mix with, and so forth—I shall go no further.
Over-zealous enforcement is a danger. You would be lucky to comply with all the myriad regulations coming out these days. I would be very surprised if the authorities did not get you on something. We know only too well about the bureaucracy of the system. There have been some horror stories, but as time is short I will not read out the details. For example, a chap was locked up in South Africa, and people have been wrongly accused of murder and had their businesses wrecked all because of mistaken cross-referencing on a database in the United States. Those cases are covered up for as long as possible.
Cross-departmental government data-sharing and joined-up government are wonderful, but it would also be possible to use an individual's address as a link to their details on the national census. That would tell us their ethnic origin, and we could have a very efficient sweep-up of undesirables. That is my answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, about why the scheme is so dangerous. We do not know who will be in power in the future. I remind noble Lords that Hitler was elected. The Government can also use the information for useful things such as lifestyle-checking, the grey economy and so on. If you try to help a friend who has just hit hard times for a while, they will soon get you for that.
When a policeman in Operation Glade leaked some interesting information from the police database the other day, he was merely rapped on the fingers; he was not even gaoled. That is not a very good signal to send out when the Government are trying to argue that all those systems will be super-secure. You must start locking up government employees who leak stuff; otherwise we will not really have security. Security is not breached by hackers; it happens when people get in and sell information. If I were a terrorist, I would try to get someone into the relevant department because they would then have a mechanism for switching ID. For example, ID is switched in trans-gender cases, witness protection programmes and for agents in the field. If I can get someone in who can switch the information on the core database, it gives me a licence to print ID. Noble Lords have already pointed out that ID theft is easier in the USA.
CCTV was mentioned earlier. The difference between CCTV and ID cards is that CCTV cannot track people. These days facial biometrics are not good enough. One can look at something that happened on CCTV, work out what happened and then work forwards, but unless something has happened one does not bother. Potentially, ID cards will track, not in real time, throughout your life. So it will be possible to find out, for example, what new politicians were up to in their youth, giving people a good opportunity to ensure that they toe the line.
Is the system feasible? I am afraid that it is all too feasible. The mobile network operators carry out identity management all the time. They ensure that calls can be made on a few hundred million telephones worldwide, and sometimes send horrendous bills for a particular company or person to pay. They also handle permission and access to third-party databases; for instance, Internet information pages. The technology is there, so it is not a problem.
Biometrics work, but the problem is deciding what constitutes a pass: seven matches out of 13, for example, because two fingerprints did not work as they were burnt on the Aga that morning?
Continuous updating will be necessary. The information will be held centrally. How will it be updated as people get older? How would a failure to match an identity be handled? Manual processes would have to be used, which is where the criminal or terrorist attacks the system.
All I really worry about is what might be acceptable and useful to the citizen. There are two things here: the card and the NIR—nightmare intrusive regulation. I prefer the idea of federated control to central control, as central government control people but local authorities try to keep people alive.
People think that as a result of the new scheme they will need to carry fewer cards. That will not happen. We will still require, for example, recognisable parliamentary passes, credit cards for financial information, a separate health card, a transport card such as Oyster and local authority cards for the library, gym, benefits, and so on. We will not get rid of cards; we will have an extra card. Do not think that anything else will happen.
Locally authenticated biometrics would be useful. They would be much better than a PIN number; there would be nothing to lose. It would be great if the individual's identity could be checked by putting their thumbprint next to the card. A government-approved universal reader that can read a biometric on the card might provide greater security so that we can throw out PIN numbers.
Claims about verifying ID online and enabling credit card protection are rubbish. Two readers will be necessary: one for the national ID card and another for the credit card. Will people have that? No, so you will not get much there.
An electronic passport on the card would be useful. ICAO-standard biometrics and local verification would speed up passage through borders, airports and so on. Perhaps an electronic visa could be added to improve things further so that a paper document would not be needed. That is a great idea, but local authentication would be needed for it to work.
I have already responded to the claim that the card will mean that individuals do not have to find utility bills to prove their identity. As I said earlier, the rules on that would have to be changed.
I am also involved with the Special Needs Application Programme Interface (SNAPI) project. We might put on it the new standard EN1334-4, which involves coding of user requirements to tailor terminals for people with special needs.
Why should I not have several personae? I am fed up with being pigeon-holed. I have been faithful to my wife. Have you? Are you happy for someone else to know where you have been the whole time?
My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, has given us a fairly good series of reasons why the Bill is simply enabling legislation at this stage. Despite a sore throat, I must thoroughly welcome the Bill, as I welcome the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Soley, with whom I spent many an evening in the other place filibustering during those difficult years. I have argued for the Bill since 1994 and repeatedly called for its introduction in the 1997–2001 Parliament, often to the consternation of colleagues behind me on the green Benches, who would occasionally reward my interventions with a growl or a grunt of disapproval. How times have changed.
My first reason for supporting ID cards stems from my experience as a student in Paris in the early 1960s, at a time of conflict in Algeria. For a period, Paris was a city in fear of bombing, as the FLN and the OAS fought out their squabbles on the streets. With that came the frequent intervention of the riot police in their Black Marias, picking up people at random for identity checks and sometimes rougher treatment. My problem was that as a teenager I had a distinctly southern European, even Algerian, look about me. I was therefore a target for the CRS, and my only defence was my French identity card, which I learnt always to carry with me. It was a very effective defence against the excesses of the French state. I am absolutely sure that without it, I would have ended up in a Black Maria to be carried off for questioning, probably behind the concrete fortifications in the gendarmerie on the Rue Soufflot, which I remember well.
I have never forgotten that experience. In times of tension, minorities have the most to benefit from ID cards. All I ask is that when an individual is required to provide evidence of identity, the ID number is recorded by the police officer concerned. We do not need 10-minute form-filling exercises, just the number on the card. That would ensure the sensitive treatment of minority groups. Database monitoring would soon reveal the targeting of minorities.
My second reason for supporting the Bill is our clear commitment in the manifesto. It is the position that I took on tuition fees, where I repeatedly voted against the Government. In my view, manifesto commitments are solemn undertakings given to the people. We have no right to break our word. Indeed, it is unprincipled.
My third reason is that the public want the cards. I know there are those in the other place who argue that asking the limited question "Do you want a national identity card?" does not commit the respondent to a national register. But the public are not stupid. They know that a national identity card without a back-up register is a worthless piece of plastic open to fraud. It would be as useless as a debit or Switch card without a bank account.
My fourth reason is the huge benefits that would arise from the scheme, many of which have already been referred to by my noble friends and others in all parts of the House. I will add a few that are more controversial. There is a huge black economy in the United Kingdom. Some people estimate its value to be in the order of £10 billion. I suspect that it is a lot larger than that. There are tens if not hundreds of thousands of people who are simply outside the system. They do not pay income tax, they do not pay national insurance contributions, and they avoid capital gains tax on share transactions. Thankfully, we catch many property transactions through stamp duty. They also do not pay tax on dividends. They trade above the VAT registration thresholds, and the loss of input offsets does not worry them at all. They do not pay taxes on rental income and totally escape capital transfer tax. Indeed, many here today will know some of the people I am referring to.
Just look at the amount of property in London, in the form of apartments and office accommodation, owned by companies based overseas with untraceable shareholders who often live anonymously in the UK, while the person on PAYE picks up the tab. People are getting tired of all that. One of the greatest benefits of the national identity card will be a vast increase in the tax take. It will far exceed the cost of card introduction—even the wildest estimates in the LSE study.
Another more controversial consideration is the use of cards to gain access to airline transport. They keep telling us that 9/11 could not have been avoided with the use of identity cards. Is that true? I understand that all the 9/11 bombers were already known to the FBI or the CIA and were recorded on their databases. We have that information from the various inquiries that have been carried out in America. If the legal requirements of the United States of America had included the swiping of a biometric data card at the hand luggage security checkpoint at embarkation, it would have triggered a red light alert as the information hit the national databases. Further biometric reader checks would have confirmed the element of risk attached to the particular passengers, and those terrorist passengers would not have even got on to the aeroplanes. Indeed, they probably would not even have tried to do so. It is only a matter of time before we have a worldwide system of biometric identification for all airline passengers; a system based not just on passports, which are not called for on domestic flights.
What are my reservations? My first reservation is that we forget that civil liberty for the man on the Clapham omnibus is that his bus will reach its final destination. The public do not want this whole exercise to be driven off course by concessions to an élitist, liberal establishment. I say that as someone who represented real people in the Commons over 22 years. I was ever worried about the disconnection between the people and Parliament. People were always complaining about the failure of Parliament to deal with real world problems.
My second reservation is that the biometrics would exclude DNA. Charles Clarke, whose clear-sighted commitment to the whole process is an example to every Secretary of State, especially at the moment, should consider the inclusion of biometric detail in the form of DNA. I know that his reservation is based on civil libertarian considerations. But Charles, why not let the public decide by giving them the option of offering DNA data for inclusion? Millions would volunteer. Some might say that it would be the wrong millions, but with a foot in the door it would soon become mandatory as part of the long-term exercise that we are engaged in. The implications of the use of DNA for the criminal justice system are immense and well documented on the basis of existing collection arrangements.
I suspect that the only people who would lose out would be the lawyers for the defence. Imagine the benefits in investigating rape, murder, burglary, child molestation, major robbery, drug dealing and a host of other cases. If you want to measure the confidence held by the general public in DNA, you need do no more than watch those appalling but inevitably tragic early morning television programmes. The subject is always Who-Did-What-To-Whom-And-When. The public queue up in their role as voyeurs to witness circumstances in which DNA is used as a substitute for Pentothal or a judicial hearing.
Finally, I want to turn to the subject of biometric error. I am no mathematician, and I am sure that the Joint Matriculation Board of 1958 would agree, but I would wager that the odds on an error in a multi-biometric matching are infinitesimal. If you add to that DNA data, the chances of error must venture into the world of astrophysical calculation. On top of that you have to convince a jury, in whom some in this House place so much faith. I have seen too many miscarriages of justice in my lifetime. "Jury guessing", I call it, like word-against-word decisions in rape trials without evidence.
As noble Lords can see, I am pretty keen on the Bill, just like the general public.
My Lords, I begin by declaring my interest. I have recently accepted an appointment as a special adviser to the Enterprise Privacy Group, an association of organisations—both private and public sector—working in partnership to assess and understand privacy-related issues and to achieve collaborative solutions. I should add that my involvement with the group is unpaid.
As the noble Baroness told us in her lucid introduction, we have been here before. The Bill is in substance the same measure as we debated before the election. I am sure it will surprise no one that in the intervening period my distaste for it has not been assuaged. Notwithstanding some vague tinkering with the drafting, I continue to have deep misgivings about it both on grounds of principle and of practicality. That said, I acknowledge that a fundamental responsibility of government, and therefore of Parliament, is to enact measures aimed at defending the security of the nation. I can therefore accept that the statutory purposes of the Bill are valid, but I cannot and do not accept that the proposed scheme represents a proportionate mechanism to resolve these matters.
Your Lordships will recall that at our previous Second Reading I focused on three distinct themes. As it happens, the relevance and import of those criticisms has manifestly deepened since we last considered the Bill. I begin with the technological aspects. To state the obvious, the success or failure of the scheme envisaged by the Bill is wholly dependent upon the viability of the technology that underpins it. For myself, I stand by the proposition that, because the stated purposes of the scheme are myriad, disparate, vague and unfocused the technological architecture of the proposed scheme will inevitably be equally vague and unfocused.
As with previous major public sector IT projects, irrespective of the party of government at the time, this is not a good augury, neither as to viability nor indeed the cost of the scheme. In this context, as the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, has already revealed, the past few weeks have seen a rash of adverse comment from within the industry as to the scheme's proposed design and the technology underpinning it. In particular, the noble Lord quoted Jerry Fishenden, the national technology officer of Microsoft UK, as expressing grave concern that the centralised database that is so intrinsic to the proposed scheme could well give rise to a massive escalation of identity-related crime. For my part, I merely add this observation from Mr Fishenden:
"There are better ways of doing this. Even the biometrics industry says it is better to have biometrics stored locally".
Perhaps more importantly, Roberto Tavano, a biometric specialist for the US company Unisys, which is a likely bidder for the scheme, has commented:
"A national ID card for the UK is overly ambitious, extremely expensive and will not be a panacea against terrorism or fraud, although", he adds,
"it will make a company like mine very happy".
Even the Government, on the basis of trials conducted to date, have been forced to admit that, contrary to their expectations, the technology will not provide adequate infallibility from a single biometric for the scheme to be workable for the whole of the UK population, a point highlighted by my noble and learned friend Lord Lyell of Markyate. Nor can they draw comfort from their insistence that reliance upon multiple biometrics will resolve this difficulty. As John Daugman of the computer laboratory at Cambridge University has pointed out, the combination of a relatively strong and relatively weak biometric test will tend to give rise to an overall result that is likely to offer a significantly worse performance than the weaker of the two original results. Given the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, I apologise immensely for making that point immediately after him. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, takes the view that intuition may suggest the opposite. Nevertheless, while I do not propose to take your Lordships through the mathematics, there is undoubtedly a very real problem here.
I turn to the second of my previous criticisms of the Bill—that is, the fact that the real aim of the proposed scheme is to establish a centralised national identity database rather than an ID card system. This issue caused concern to the constitutional committee in its previous report on the Bill. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Holme, touched upon it earlier today. As the committee commented:
"When the scheme is fully in place, the role of identity cards themselves will be secondary to the database of information regarding the personal history on a life-long basis of every individual in the Register".
"It will be possible, once all the biometric information is recorded, for the authorities, by scanning anyone who is or should be on the register, to check their identity and access information about them without recourse to the identity card itself".
The importance of this should not be underestimated. The internal logic of the scheme is that, so far as it is possible for current biometric technology to deliver adequate levels of accuracy—something which, as I have already implied, is far from certain at the moment or, indeed, for the foreseeable future—the registered individual himself is to all intents and purposes the card. In other words—as successive Home Office Ministers have all but claimed—identity cards themselves are wholly redundant to the scheme. Little wonder, therefore, that the Government are so sanguine about compelling us to carry them.
Moreover, given that Clause 1(1) confers responsibility for the maintenance of the register on the Secretary of State, there is a palpable sense in which control of the identities of registered individuals—I do not necessarily say ownership—vests in the Government of the day. Like the constitutional committee, I find this deeply worrying.
There is a further aspect of this that merits attention which other noble Lords have already touched upon. Again, the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, cited the relevant passage from the Government's manifesto; namely, the commitment to,
"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".
Additionally, my noble friends Lady Anelay, Lord Waddington and others have already explained the way in which the Bill forces compulsion by default upon the individual, certainly so far as concerns registration. This, combined with the fact that identity cards are, to all intents and purposes, irrelevant to the operation of the scheme—and here I offer due deference to the views of the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours—renders the Bill inconsistent with the manifesto.
The waters are further muddied by a Motion passed by the Scottish Parliament in February of this year, a point to which my noble friend Lady Carnegy has already alluded. Within the text of the Motion are the unequivocal statements that,
"the Parliament . . . believes the proposals to be flawed on political, technical and financial grounds", and,
"the Parliament . . . is concerned that the national identity card and database offer an ineffective response to problems of security and fraud and pose an unacceptable risk to civil liberties".
Like the Scottish Parliament, I can accept that, in terms, this so-called enabling Bill is a reserved matter. Nevertheless, I question how true to the spirit of the devolutionary settlement it is for this Westminster Parliament to impose "compulsion by default" on Scotland, especially in light of the fact that its democratic process has determined that the proposed scheme is wholly undesirable.
Finally, I turn to the point of principle—that is, the proposition that the Bill fundamentally alters the relationship between the individual and the state. I know of no objective independent commentators who say anything other than that the proposed scheme represents a serious assault upon our liberties. As A.C. Grayling puts it:
"the expert bodies best informed on matters of law, human rights and civil liberties are unanimous in their opposition: the Law Society, Liberty, JUSTICE . . . Privacy International . . . and others, even among them the Information Commissioner, criticise the proposals".
Within Parliament, the Home Affairs Select Committee in another place, the Joint Committee on Human Rights and, as amply revealed by the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Holme, the constitutional committee have all expressed considerable disquiet. Stakeholder groups—including many of the unions, the Commission for Racial Equality, the Disability Rights Commission and so on—have ongoing and voluble concerns about the Bill, no doubt reflecting the fact that, if enacted as currently drafted, its more insidious elements will affect the most vulnerable in society disproportionately.
Yet in the face of such comprehensive and consistent opposition, the Government have sailed blithely on, holding to the Home Secretary's anodyne proposition that, in some mystical way, the current proposals for ID cards will "control" the so-called big brother state, or to the Prime Minister's fatuous justification for the scheme—namely, that it is an idea "whose time has come".
The reality is that the Bill, as drafted, will not only diminish our liberties but will also undermine our historic adherence to the rule of law. In terms, it establishes an executive system of control of the individual citizen by reference to his/her identity. Again, A.C. Grayling outlines the effects of this far more eloquently than I can. He says:
"To be obliged—required, forced by law—to have such a document is to be a conscript in a system, whether one wishes it or no".
Adding, for good measure, that,
"Possession of an ID card is analogous to having to prove to the authorities that you are innocent, instead of them having to prove their case against you".
Here we should remember that the underlying intention of the Bill is that, notwithstanding the inherent weaknesses of the technology, the registered person should be the card by virtue of his or her biometrics. In other words, the force of the conscription envisaged by the Bill is far more pernicious, and that much deeper, than one might at first suppose.
I have no doubt that the Minister will seek to dismiss these criticisms in her winding-up speech. So be it. But I cannot help feeling that this is of a piece with an increasingly apparent attribute of the current Administration. Writing in last week's Daily Telegraph, Simon Heffer articulated the point in this way:
"What we now have is a government that sees its role as that of controller, rather than as enabler".
Indeed, there is a palpable sense in which the Government now perceive their responsibility to be to rule, rather than govern, us. The distinction is not merely semantic. I hold to the conviction that governments—all governments of whatever political hue—should be servants of the people. Yet the Bill will do much to deliver the reverse. It will move us inexorably towards being servants of the state.
Bluntly, I am unconvinced, given the marginal nature of the potential benefits on offer, that this is a bargain that we should knowingly or willingly enter into.
My Lords, I wish I had enough time to deal with the points that the noble Earl has made. I do not see that we are on the verge of Armageddon, nor that the Bill will take away our traditional civil liberties. I support the principles of the Bill; I shall mention some areas of concern and also say a little about Northern Ireland.
I wonder whether any of your Lordships have tried to open a building society account recently. I did so not long ago; I had to produce a passport, a council tax bill and a utility bill so that I could put a very small sum of money into a branch of, I think, the Abbey National. While I am about it, if two people are going to live together or get married, I advise them to share the utility bills between them—not the payment, necessarily, but the bills—otherwise one of them will have difficulties opening a building society account in the future, unless and until we have identity cards.
We can all remember a time when no checks were needed to enter the Palace of Westminster; we could walk straight on to aircraft; there were no CCTV cameras, money laundering or people trafficking. But the world changed long before the Government decided that we needed a Bill of this sort.
Some of your Lordships have talked about the relationship of the individual to the state. That altered significantly many years ago. It will not change very much because of the Bill; it changed a long time ago when we had bombings in London. Security checks were made when boarding aircraft, and so on. In practice, the Bill will not change the relationship of the individual to the state, except possibly at the margins.
We now live in a world where there is terrorism, international crime and identity fraud. I shall go carefully with this example because I am not a lawyer and there are lawyers present. I was told by a legal aid solicitor that sometimes when the police stopped a motorist, for example, and summonsed that person to appear in court, on the day of the hearing a totally different person turned up, because the original individual had given someone else's name and address. It takes the police quite a long time to disentangle that.
There are more important examples. Let me mention one. I believe that a national identity register, plus ID cards, will make it harder for people who wish to hide their criminal past to avoid restrictions on, say, working with children. That is one safeguard which is difficult to deny, and there are others.
Even boarding an internal flight with some airlines requires photo-identity. Our passports will have to have lots of additional data if we are to be able to travel to other countries, particularly the United States. There is nothing new in the principle the Government are putting forward in the Bill. But, of course, passports must be secure, and today's passports are not, as noble Lords have mentioned.
I serve on a sub-committee of the European Union Committee. When we had a meeting with Interpol, its head said that in every major case of terrorism a forged passport had been involved. They are easy to forge these days, but the Government's proposals will at least make them harder to forge—perhaps not impossible, but harder. If we look at the link between passport information, as will be necessary, and ID cards, there is no great breach of our civil liberties or of the principles underlying our relationship to the state, when we have the same information on an ID card as on a passport. The key is how that information will be used and to whom it will be made available.
People have talked about the effect on race relations. For the life of me, I cannot understand why ID cards will make race relations worse or will prejudice the position of ethnic minorities in this country. Stop and search goes on anyway. I am not sure that a police officer who wants to use stop-and-search powers on a black person will be inhibited or encouraged by an ID card. It seems to me that it will make no difference. If anything, the person stopped will, as my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours said about his times in Paris, have the safeguard of saying, "Here is my identity card", which I think will stop most police officers in their tracks. I believe that in that sense ID cards will be a safeguard to individuals rather than a threat.
I have three areas of concern; perhaps my noble friend can deal with them in her reply. We already exchange a great deal of information with other countries about suspected terrorists or suspected international criminals. What will happen when we have this national register? Some information it is necessary to exchange because it may help to catch terrorists. The question is how much information will be exchanged and what safeguards there will be against exchanging the sort of extra information that will be held on the register.
Secondly, I am concerned about the cost—less about the difference between the cost of a passport and an ID card, and more about the suggested £30 charge for individuals who will not have a passport. That seems rather high, and I would like to feel that people who are not well off will not have to pay. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmlsley, talked about children. Young persons or their parents would find it pretty onerous if children had to pay the same amount for a passport and therefore an ID card if they were to travel.
My third concern has been referred to by other noble Lords: whether large IT schemes work. We have moved a long way since some of the dramatic failures of the past, but I trust that the Government will not move in this direction unless they are certain that the IT system is sufficiently robust. I query the difficulty we have had over the years in trying to record all passport details of people entering and leaving the country. My understanding is that the computer system did not deal with that. I should like to feel it could, because that is another important check, but perhaps my noble friend can say a little about the robustness of the IT system or the safeguards that will ensure that it will be robust enough.
I turn to Northern Ireland, where there are particular issues concerning identity cards. The Good Friday agreement says under the heading of "Constitutional Issues" under paragraph 1(vi), that the British and Irish Governments will:
"recognise the birthright of all people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both, as they may so choose, and accordingly confirm that their right to hold both British and Irish citizenship is accepted by both Governments and would not be affected by any future change in the status of Northern Ireland".
Some nationalists in Northern Ireland might not want to be identified as British on their identity cards. They might choose not to do so and it would be their right under the Good Friday agreement to make that decision. I wonder how the Government will handle that. I understand that discussions are going on with the Irish Government, but I am concerned that we might cause difficulties in Northern Ireland as a byproduct of this particular identity card scheme.
My other concern is not so much about Northern Ireland but about Irish people resident in Britain. Some might be happy to have a British identity card, but others who have Irish nationality and not British nationality might not wish to have that sort of identity card. There might be difficulties for them. Some might be quite happy. How do we handle that? This is a sensitive issue, but my main concern is with nationalists in Northern Ireland.
This is an enabling Bill. There are detailed concerns and I hope that we can deal with those in Committee. However, I accept the principle of what the Government are seeking to do.
My Lords, I rise to support this Bill. I want to speak briefly not of the logical issues, which have been well covered by many speakers, but the emotional ones. I find the logic of the benefits of the Bill in a society with proliferating fragile databases overwhelming. I believe that the costs will be managed and that problems with the technology will be overcome. The Government's recent track record in technological projects is ever improving. However, deep down, alongside that logic there is emotional opposition to this Bill. I have spent some time probing it to try to understand it better. I started the classic way by looking at civil liberties, human rights and so forth. I started by reading Magna Carta—at least a translation—the Bill of Rights and John Stuart Mill, and eventually got to the European Convention on Human Rights. Only in that last document are there any references that really relate to central concerns about the Bill.
I decided that it was inevitable that I would not find any universal truths and I had better do my own research, because an emotional reaction is all about what something means to individual citizens and why they are concerned. I decided to do extensive research. It was not quite as onerous as I suggest since it was mostly done over dinner or in the pub. However, I was able to consult a wide variety of people. Although they may not have been statistically representative, the sheer variety of their reactions was a good cross-section of the emotional reactions that people have. At one end were a number of people who said, "I see no problem, it's as simple as that". Indeed, people who remembered wartime said, "It was not a problem then so what is the problem now?".
Of those people who had problems with the Bill, there were three streams of concern. First, there was a sense of loss of privacy, that one has a right to be anonymous and go through society without people seeing you. It was interesting to probe the reasons for that concern, but it is nevertheless clearly a widely felt value that one should be able to merge into society and not stand out.
Secondly, there was a sense of loss of freedom of movement. I was told very passionately that the individual did not want to have to show the card or carry it. When it was pointed out that the Bill did not envisage the card being carried I was told, "I do not even want it to exist because someone will ask to see it". There was a sense that one has a right to move freely in one's own country.
Thirdly, perhaps not surprisingly, there was a passionate concern about the possibility of a police state. There was genuine concern, particularly among younger people who said, "I don't trust this Government and I didn't trust the last one. The last thing I want to do is to give them any mechanisms to give the state more control over me".
I believe that most of those issues can be addressed and most are, at least in part, already dealt with in the Bill. However, I invite the Government to be particularly sensitive to those emotional strands, because in my experience in public life and management, how people feel is every bit as important as how they are persuaded.
How can we meet some of these concerns? First, I hope that Ministers will be sensitive to how they build the suite of safeguards. There are a fair number of safeguards in the Bill against the concerns that I have expressed, but in some cases they may need to be more obvious and accessible. I told a friend that the Data Protection Act 1998 allowed him to see what is held on the database. He asked, very reasonably, "How?", and I could not tell him. The underlying protections that give one access to one's own data should be easy to use and well publicised. Citizens should easily be able to discover what the register contains about them and to see the audit trail.
Secondly, the sensible technological solution to introduction would be a measured introduction. We should turn that into a virtue. One person I asked about the Bill said that they had no problem with it, but would not have said that five years ago. The passage of time, the watching of events and the unwinding of the Bill and its introduction will ease these emotional strains and allow society to become more comfortable with it.
Thirdly, we must have powerful oversight. I hope that Ministers will listen very carefully to representations to increase the power of the commissioner, guarantee independence, allow direct access to Parliament and, perhaps, have very high profile board members. They should be household names—people whose integrity is evident from their very high-profile public position. Parliament must do its work in that scrutiny process as we go through the various statutory instruments. As a generality, we do not give nearly enough effort to statutory instruments. The statutory instruments connected with this Bill must be considered with great care. We must do our work together with our friends in the other place to make sure that we discharge that duty.
Finally, the key move in the Bill will be the move to compulsion. The Government have invented the idea of super-affirmative instruments. They may prove more trouble than they are worth. They are so unprecedented that they are likely to become messy in application. The simple use of primary legislation at that stage may be better and more straightforward and give confidence to society in general that we are doing our duty. I want the Bill to succeed and I want it to meet all the concerns that society has about it. I believe that, if we in Parliament and Government together do a good job, we will be seen as farsighted, creating a secure basis for an increasingly unstable technological world.
My Lords, I very much agree with the last point made by the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, about the need to scrutinise the statutory instruments that this Bill will spawn. However, it should be remembered that the Government contend that we are not entitled constitutionally to amend, let alone reverse, statutory instruments. There is much to be said by way of criticism of this Bill for its provisions in that regard.
I had intended to begin and will go on to say something that I am afraid some of your Lordships may regard as vulgar. If, after some catastrophic further outrage, which heaven forfend, it were to be shown that a reliable scheme for an identity card could have helped the police prevent the outrage, the blow to public confidence would surely be very heavy. Surely, in those awful circumstances, the maintenance of public confidence would be very important indeed. Many of the highly principled, eloquently delivered and totally sincere criticisms expressed today about the scheme would not in those circumstances attract much sympathy; nor would they be much solace. How much weight should your Lordships attach to that consideration?
This has been a deeply troubling debate to me, for the best of reasons. It has got to the heart of some difficult questions. Not surprisingly, it has concentrated on a recognition of the deeply demanding conflict—with which the purpose of this Bill confronts us—between our opposing duties as legislators: on the one hand, our duty to help the Government secure the safety of the realm, and on the other the duty to stand in the trench and defend those freedoms and safeguards against undue restraint by the executive, for which our predecessors have fought and not infrequently died.
That conflict is not new. In 1939, for example, we faced it when we brought into law the defence regulations within, I think, the space of an afternoon. Let it not be forgotten that they provided, among other delicacies, for internment without trial. At a lesser level, as has already been mentioned, legislation provided for identity cards, but they were puny forerunners of the sophisticated instruments of surveillance that this Bill now poses.
How should we resolve this conflict? In doing so, it is right that we bear in mind the history and spirit of the common law, and indeed of our whole history. We must keep that in the forefront of our minds. It is right that it should be invoked and held before us today. It must always exert a powerful magnetism upon any English lawyer. No less powerful—and I am glad I can say this in the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, who made so powerful a speech earlier today—is our common experience that when the powers of the law enforcement agencies of the executive are called into question, they always ask for more.
Today, however, our country and all who live here face a threat that is quite unprecedented in character. True, at the end of the war against Japan in 1945, we were experiencing the kamikaze pilot, but our homeland has never been subjected to attacks by suicide bombers who, unlike the kamikaze, do not show up on the radar as they approach from some enemy base. We are faced today with such a bomber who typically lies deep within our communities. He gives no forewarning of his approach or of his terrorist intent. We all know how devastating such an attack can be. We know that it can strike at the very heart of the state.
It is the absence of early-warning radar, if I can put it like that, of someone who is himself determined to die that should determine our resolution of that conflict. This deprivation of early warning must be mitigated somehow. We cannot simply sit back and say that the present state of our law, safeguards and protective measures is sufficient. That is where the case for the Identity Cards Bill comes in, at least in part.
Provided—and this is the most crucial proviso—that this scheme's features can be shown to be effective and workable and will help to fill a dangerous gap, my position is that enough of the severe intrusions that this Bill will permit must be tolerated for the greater good. These are unprecedentedly dangerous times, and they warrant and demand such measures as will satisfy that demand, provided that they are proportionate and fair, notwithstanding that they are hard.
Enormously powerful speeches have been made today criticising this Bill, and I am deeply impressed by them. If it is not invidious to say so, I call to mind the speeches of my noble friend Lord Waddington, my noble and learned friend Lord Lyell of Markyate and the noble Lords, Lord Phillips of Sudbury and Lord Thomas of Gresford; there have been many others. I have found them deeply troubling. In the light of the speeches made by, for example, the noble Lords, Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington and Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate, and of what we know about the demands by the police for these powers and a scheme of this character, I consider that on balance this Bill merits a Second Reading, although I have to add the word "just".
Within its provisions, however, the devil does not inhabit merely the detail; he resides in many mansions, and from these he must be evicted by the processes at which this House excels. If he cannot be, the Bill deserves to fail. For example, there is the extraordinary feature that in no fewer than 60 instances the Secretary of State is given power to effect substantial legislative changes. This is virtually a skeletal enabling Bill, and I look forward with interest to see what the Select Committee has to say about it. These instances must be drastically reduced.
Then there is the question of the estimates of cost, and the extraordinary disparity between respectable estimates—those of the Government and the LSE, for example—has to be resolved, as my noble and learned friend Lord Lyell has said. Chapter and verse need to be given by the police and the security authorities of the way in which the Bill will help. Much too wide access is given to the register. These are just a few of the many matters with which I trust the House will closely concern itself as we give this properly intentioned but, I am afraid, deeply flawed Bill the scrutiny it demands.
My Lords, with the forbearance of the House, I will take you on a short journey of changing public attitudes. Twenty years ago we lived in an almost entirely different world. When people were asked in 1985 by Gallup—a polling organisation that no longer really exists in Britain—what was the most urgent problem facing Britain, 75 per cent said unemployment, 10 per cent said strikes, only two per cent said crime and none said immigration.
Compare that picture to today. When MORI asked in September what were the most important issues facing Britain today, it found defence, international terrorism and security were top with 46 per cent. Race relations, immigration and asylum were second with 32 per cent. Crime was fourth, with 25 per cent. This is a transformed landscape, a wholly new world, and one I have seen slowly emerge over the years that I have been doing this kind of work. Inch by inch the terrain has altered, so that now the whole map is vastly different.
The emergence of immigration, crime, security and terror do not mean that the electorate has become more racist or more authoritarian; in fact quite the reverse, as I will show. It does mean, however, that the prism through which the citizen views the world has changed, just as surely as the world has changed around the citizen. New challenges have emerged, and a new agenda has been built. Politics is never still.
The enduring concerns of the economy and public services remain but they have been joined by a new politics; I call this the politics of identity and of security. This new politics has emerged as a reaction to a constellation of new forces. People are part of a world in which they experience constant change and see and feel global forces touch their very lives. Globalisation may be universal in its influence but it is local in its impact. In a sense, every individual and every community is at the epicentre of their own constellation of change. Nothing is immune from that—not employment, not skills, not migration, not terror, not religion, not crime, and, now, not disease. In the face of that people have mixed feelings—not confused feelings so much as mixed feelings. Often, and increasingly, they cope with confidence, and that is the good news in all of this. But they also feel insecure, threatened and unsure.
Communities, values and patterns of life appear to be changing in unpredictable and disturbing ways. The public's response to that is balanced. For of the most part they are tolerant and open to change. But the public also feel that the long-established relationship between responsibility and rights is being eroded. They sense that the glue that held communities together is weakening. They support immigration but deplore abuse of immigration procedures. They want increased investment in public services and will pay the taxes necessary to finance them but resent those who abuse public services without contributing fairly to the costs. They do not break laws themselves but feel that sometimes law breakers escape too easily and too lightly. But they do not, except on the extreme and contemptible fringe, retreat into retribution or racism or reaction. If they do so, I believe that they do so less. The British at their core are tolerant and fair, but they know that the world is changing and old solutions will not work any more. They want new responses that recognise the changed reality of their lives.
At its heart, this velocity of change threatens not just jobs or way of life but identity—who we are, where we are, where we belong, what is our basic sense of self. In the past the answers were easy. We lived in communities affirmed by longstanding relations, patterns of life and clear and fixed symbols of identity; but no longer. We now inhabit a complex, fast-moving and cosmopolitan world where who we are is multi-faceted and fluid. Now even personal identity—who you are—can be stolen. Although traditional ties of community are fragmenting, the impulse to belong is not weakened. In fact the opposite is true: the greater the flux, the more the importance of identity. People want to be citizens. They want to contribute. They want to belong to the community and the nation and they want this contribution to be recognised and they want it to be respected.
That is why, when the public were consulted about identity cards, the first reason they gave for supporting them was an,
"enhanced sense of community, a visible means to feel pride in citizenship".
I will read that again:
"enhanced sense of community, a visible means to feel pride in citizenship".
That is why they want identity cards. The second reason was "psychological security", and the third was the ease with which it allowed people "to confirm identity".
That is also why the NO to ID cards campaign is wrong to argue that identity cards represent the,
"arbitrary control of personal identity".
The opposite is true. Identity cards represent for most people not the control of identity but its affirmation. Identity cards in this new world are a symbol of identity—a badge of good citizenship, a sign of belonging. They can help form the core of a new social contract in which rights and responsibilities are seen to balance and which in turn helps to glue our communities together once more.
Each of the specific benefits of identity cards is individually important and each has been discussed endlessly today. I will repeat them quickly. They will help to reduce identity theft, which is now a very serious and rising concern at every level. People are very concerned about that. Identity cards will help to curtail illegal immigration and start to facilitate a more balanced and less-heated argument about the intrinsic benefits of immigration itself. They will help to ensure that those holding a position or employed in a position of trust are who they say they are. They will help stop fraud and waste in the public services and they will play their part in combating crime and terror. But in their essence identity cards go further: they affirm identity in a world of flux. They are the opposite of identity theft. However, the protection of identity, important though it is, is just one part of the complex response we must all make to the challenge of the new politics.
I noticed that one of the forthcoming Hamlyn lectures—I think that there will be one at the LSE soon—will argue that this new age of uncertainty and anxiety puts huge pressure on human rights, which is why the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into British law has been so important. I believe that that is true. One of the very many things I have learnt from this House is how the European Convention on Human Rights has become part of the usual currency of political debate. The convention has become the benchmark by which legislation must be tested and the test by which it must pass. In its way, the European Convention on Human Rights and its incorporation into British law was a necessary response to a new world of global uncertainty and pressure. Human rights were affirmed, codified and fixed. In a related way, the introduction of identity cards will affirm identity and give fixed concrete expression to people's desire to belong and to be recognised as good citizens.
My point is plain. This new world demands new approaches. Identity cards and the codification of human rights do not herald from different parts of the political spectrum but form a connected response to the same challenge: how to protect and enhance the individual in the face of anxiety, insecurity and global change. I certainly do not believe that the protection of human rights and the protection of identity are in some way in inevitable conflict. I absolutely do not believe that. Instead, they are part of a shared and mutually reinforcing attempt to respond appropriately to the new political world that we inhabit.
I know that there are many in this House, and I have heard it today, who have serious doubts about the Bill. Those reservations are honourable and deep-rooted, and of course those views must be respected and those arguments made. But I say to the House this evening that, in the end, the House has a choice: to stay entangled in the fault lines of the past or to move forward and meet new challenges with new approaches. The public want identity cards. They have supported them at a general election and they support them still. On this occasion the public are right. They have voted for identity cards and should have the right to have them, to use them and to have their identity affirmed. I believe that the House should support the Bill.
My Lords, I pay tribute to the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Soley, although he is not present. I do so because he and I entered Parliament—the House of Commons—together on
Surprisingly, everyone on this side who has spoken so far has supported the principle of the Bill and the Bill itself. I am going to be no exception. I have to confess that I have listened to speeches opposing it from those opposite and have some difficulty understanding why they are against it. In particular, I have to ask those who are supporters of the European Union how identity cards can be an intrusion of privacy and civil liberties in this country when so many of our democratic partners within the European Union insist that their citizens have them.
I believe that 21 out of 25 countries in Europe have ID cards. I am assured by the Home Secretary that under the Schengen agreement, whereby people move within Europe using just identity cards, the relevant authorities are looking to introduce a common, biometric identity card so that all the countries involved can have the same system. Although the United States of America is not introducing its own identity cards, next year it will insist that people from this country visiting the USA either have a biometric passport or go to the considerable expense and inconvenience of obtaining a visa. The 80 per cent of the population who have passports will either get a biometric passport straight away or they will do so when they renew their passports.
As I said, banks are concerned about the level of card fraud and therefore seek to introduce biometric bank cards as soon as possible. Certainly the Japanese banks are considering a common system in that regard. I am surprised that no one so far has mentioned my next point. All of us who work in the parliamentary estate, from the Prime Minister to the cleaner, or from the cleaner to the Prime Minister, whichever way you wish to put it, have to carry an identity card. It is a very poor identity card. Apart from the photograph there is no way of recognising whether or not the person who is wearing it is the person who it is supposed to describe. That is fine for us but it is not necessarily fine for everyone who works on the estate. I am fairly certain that within a short time those who are in charge of the security of these buildings will insist on our identity cards being biometric. It is not the only way but it is one way of guaranteeing someone's identity.
Nearly all of us trust computer systems. Perhaps I am reasonably unique in this place but I buy goods on the Internet. I give the details of my bank card to the companies from which I buy goods. I tax my car on the Internet. I top up my pay-as-you-go phone on the Internet. All the time I assume that the computer system I am using is trustworthy and so far I have been proved right. The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, said that he did not want people to gain information about him. He and I have travelled home from here on the same bus, using our freedom passes which Ken Livingstone so kindly gives us because we are pensioners. London Transport knows our addresses and dates of birth. It has to have that information. It also knows exactly which bus we travelled on and the time we travelled. If you are travelling on the Underground, your ticket tells you where you got on and where you got off. Therefore, I do not understand why the noble Lord is so concerned about this issue. All of us have passports, bank cards, library cards and wallets stuffed full of cards with which we prove our identity, and we have no difficulty in doing so. How many noble Lords would deny security the right to ask for their pass if security so wished it, or say, "I am not showing my passport when I come back into the country"? Of course, they would not.
Those who oppose the Bill and the introduction of identity cards seek to deprive those 20 per cent who are less fortunate—the 20 per cent who do not have passports tend to be the unemployed, pensioners and the elderly—of services and privileges that we enjoy and take for granted. If you fly on Ryanair—perhaps I should not mention Ryanair today—or easyJet, you will find that they demand a passport or identity card before allowing passengers to board internal UK flights. I am not talking about external flights. Recently two of my relatives flew from Glasgow to Bournemouth for the princely sum of £47.
My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt the noble Lord when he is in full flow—it was a very fascinating full flow—but does he agree with me that the reason Ryanair and other such airlines require documentation has nothing to do with identity fraud or misrepresentation? They are trying to prevent their customers transferring their tickets to others free of charge. They want their customers to return the tickets and pay an administration fee or a penalty for transferring the tickets.
My Lords, I accept that there is something in that but the fact is those airlines demand such documentation. We cannot fly with them without showing some form of identification. Until we introduce some form of identity card we are denying the 20 per cent who do not have passports, who perhaps could benefit most from these cheap airline fares within the UK, the chance to take holidays and to visit relatives.
I turn to the cards that are proposed. First, in my view they should be compulsory straight away and free. The cost of them should be met from taxation. Secondly, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Harris, and one or two others, that we live in a world of fast-moving technology. I ask noble Lords to think back five or 10 years and consider how far we have advanced in that time. We have to accept that as regards technology we are moving as fast as we ever have done, if not faster. The world will change even more within another five or 10 years. Therefore, I say to my noble friends on the government Front Bench that I consider what they are proposing is rather limited and unambitious. I believe that they could do more to ensure that the cards could be more readily used for other purposes. I see no reason why instead of having a separate passport, a separate driving licence and a separate identity card, they should not all be combined on one card. After all, it will have a microchip in it. That microchip will be able to store an almost infinite amount of information. So why not just have the one card to serve all three purposes? When in the very near future—as I hope—we move to a system of electronic voting, which must come and will come, that card could also be used as a voting card. You will not have a vote unless you have that card.
I remember my good friend, who is now the noble Lord, Lord Clark, saying, when he was a Minister in 1997, that there was no reason why an identity card should not be capable of having social security payments downloaded on to it so that it becomes, if you like, a bank card. If you do that, you give those who are most disadvantaged in our society the opportunity to use that card to buy cheaper goods than they can at present. It is one of the anomalies of our society that the poorest pay most. This new system would not get rid of that but it would begin that process. Let us think very seriously about where we are going with this, be a little more ambitious than we are at present and see how we can use the card in other ways. I give my full support to the Bill.
My Lords, I should explain that I put my name down rather later than I should have done to speak in this debate because in earlier debates in the House on identity cards I spoke in favour of such projects and I wish to add a few modest words in support of the proposition. I was not intending to address the larger constitutional issues on which we have heard some important and extremely moving speeches, and we will no doubt return to these broad issues at later stages of the Bill.
Perhaps your Lordships will forgive me if I make my few rather modest suggestions about the practicalities of the suggested identity cards. Most other countries in the world have identity cards and find them useful. The doubts that I have about the scheme which we are considering at the moment concern points of detail such as the following. I find the scheme too extensive, too ambitious and all-embracing. It would evidently be extremely expensive and it fails, in my view, to meet the desirable objective of providing maximum utility to the citizen at a moderate cost.
My preference would be for an identity card that produces real and tangible benefits for the citizen. The present proposal is more ambitious than that and would cover a wide range of activity. It would, for example, enable the police and other public authorities to identify a citizen by name, address and occupation. The scheme that I would favour would help the citizen in various daily transactions such as in ordering an article on credit, paying a telephone bill or on e-mail.
Also, most importantly, it would be for use as a travel document, particularly in the European Union where identity cards are accepted in lieu of passports when entering and leaving a member state. That already includes European Union citizens arriving in this country. In my view, we should have reciprocal opportunities in return. It would also help if the authorities who maintain order could be assisted by identifying with certainty the identity of a person whose conduct has caused them concern. It would also be important to limit the opportunity for fraud in commercial transactions, which misuse of the cards might make possible. My little list is by no means exhaustive—public health is another subject that is much on our minds at present.
I have no objection to those functions, which are part of the responsibilities of a modern state, but the ambit and coverage foreseen by the Bill is wide and would give rise to much expense. My preference would be for a much simpler document dealing with a narrower range of functions, some of which would be of real benefit to the citizen. In particular, an identity card that could be used when entering or leaving member states of the European Union would be extremely useful. I notice when travelling between Britain and Italy, which I still do quite regularly, the ready acceptance of Italian identity documents by our own immigration authorities. I compare that with the extremely extensive personal information that may be sought from a British citizen travelling to the United States. No doubt that is partly because of 9/11 and the decision of the United States Government that they need much more information about those entering their country than is given by our present passports.
Perhaps I am wrong, but I suspect that the United States would like much more information about our citizens going to the United States than is available to them under the present passport and visa system. As someone who travels quite often to the United States, as I have a daughter who is now a US citizen, I am amazed on every occasion by the length of time it takes to study a British passport at a major American airport such as JFK, Dulles or Boston. Also, I notice that a British citizen who arrives in the United States and presents a valid British passport that shows a recent visa issued particularly by Egypt would be subject to close personal examination. Of course, the American authorities have the right to ask such questions, but I see no reason why we should collect personal data on their behalf as part of our ID system. I do not know whether such information would be available to the Americans under the system that we have in mind, but I hope that some careful thought can be given to it.
In short, I welcome the idea of a national ID, but the present scheme strikes me as being too elaborate and expensive. Nor should we forget the recent but unfortunate record of Whitehall in dealing with major computer projects, which is hardly a matter that one can think about with confidence when considering how such a scheme could be handled. I hope that the Government will be able to refine their proposal to focus more on some of the essential details, a few of which I have mentioned, to produce a result that is of real utility to the British citizen and not just to the state. As more British citizens travel to the EEC than to the United States, I suggest that the European use of our new system of identity cards should be the main focus of the detail when the design is carried through.
My Lords, I have been in favour of identity cards since way before the Labour Party came into government. I, along, with the noble Baroness, Lady Sharples—who told me earlier today that she could not be bothered to speak yet again on identity cards—have been two solid supporters of identity cards, and we have always been that way. There are a number of issues that I should talk about.
First, in some sense the whole debate about our ancient liberties perhaps may be resumed another day. But when that debate was first held, it was a hostile, oppressive monarchy that people were opposing. John Stuart Mill was writing at a stage when there was no universal franchise and it was an aristocratic government. At that time, the poorer people did not have the ancient liberties that we are talking about—read E P Thompson on 18th century farmers. It is terrible to think that people were done for stealing from common property. I have always been sceptical about the idea that our ancient liberty started with Charles I or even before and has always been there. Real liberties came when universal adult franchise was established, and my party fought for it more than any other.
If a government are elected democratically, I would trust that government to look after my interests. I am not worried about the oppression that people talk about, because eventually any government in our system can be replaced. I would like the party opposite to say unequivocally that if it came to power it would abolish identity cards if it did not like them; it is very simple. It may come to power some day; it is not like the Liberal Democrats. It can promise that it will abolish them, and that would be interesting to hear.
I have had a lot of experience of identity cards and similar systems. When I went from India to America, everywhere you went around campuses in America you had to have an ID of some sort, partly in those days, because I was younger, to prove my age when I went drinking. Later on, when I became a frequent traveller to the United States I acquired an INS pass, for frequent travellers. They took my palm print, which allowed me quick access at New York airport. I just had to put down my palm and they checked it against the original print. Biometric data are reliable, they work, there is no great problem.
Lately in this country there has been an interesting discussion about whether there is too much diversity. Progressive, liberal people such as David Goodhart who edits Prospect and my friend Bob Rowthorn who is a professor at Cambridge have been arguing that immigration has resulted in too much diversity and the cohesion of the community is breaking down. I resist that argument, but the people who are making it are not racist and they are not right wing; they are really good, progressive people. That leads to the following thought. If there is that threat to the community, what is the common minimum core that we would gather around? It would have to be something in the public space. I agree with my noble friend Lord Gould who, in a very good speech, said that eventually citizens can share one thing—everyone will have an identity card, and that will tell them that they are part of the community.
I do not know about many other people, but my children certainly were always stopped by the police when walking down Holloway Road. That is routine. No hassle, they were walking down Holloway Road doing no harm and happened to be distinctly non-white and they got stopped and searched. There is not any problem. They survived all that. That sort of problem may be dealt with even when a card is not compulsory; I bet you that a member of an ethnic minority community would find it useful to carry it.
I shall tell you another reason why. Ten years ago, my passport ran out so I got my passport renewed and left my old and new passports in a cab. I had to go abroad in three days' time, so I went round to the post office and said, "I need some kind of identity document—I have to go". The reply was, "Sorry, sir—can't do that. You must give me your original immigration document". I said, "Look, I've lived here for 30 years. I'm a Member of the House of Lords. What is wrong with me?". This lovely lady, who was Afro-Caribbean herself, said, "I'm sorry, but I'm not allowed to give you an identity card because you have not been born here". Even citizens—passport holders—of dusky colour are not the same as people not of dusky colour.
It is useless to pretend that all oppression is going to end and that we shall go back to Star Chamber; no doubt arguments will remain. Given the ethnic diversity in this country, in the multicultural context of absorbing the community, doubts are arising now about a variety of people. We are asking how we can have home-grown terrorists. For God's sake, we have had home-grown terrorists in the IRA for 50 years, but because they were white no one worried about them being home-grown. It is only blacks who are not allowed to be home-grown terrorists. I shall not defend terrorists, but I want to say that the argument has not lost its asymmetry. We are trying our best but, if every citizen had an identity document, life would be simpler, at least for members of ethnic minorities.
It is possible for us to discuss details. For example, I would prefer a minimal identity card with minimal information on it. Then people might be able to choose to add more stuff, as my noble friend Lord Maxton said. Why not? After all, my information is already with all my credit card people. My bank has information. Every time that I call American Express, I am asked my mother's maiden name. Thank God I remember it; there might be inebriated moments when I lose that. I would rather trust the state—a democratically elected government—to have information on me than the private sector, which already has the information on me.
There are two further matters. One is cost. Given that there are 45 million adults and the card could be a 10-year document, if it were to cost £5 per year that would be £50 per person. You begin to see that the kind of cost that people think of with horror is actually not that horrible. People talk in billions and so on, but divide by 45 million and all numbers look manageable. Even if the card was expensive, what is the alternative? Would you rather save money—have more policemen on the beat, to put it rhetorically—and allow all sorts of terrorists to commit passport fraud and other sorts of fraud and leave yourselves subject to that?
I want to say one more thing because the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, is in his place. He talked about how he had met pre-war émigrés who were so relieved that they were in a country where there were no passports. As we had passports in the Second World War, I thought that they must have sleepwalked through the war and perhaps existed without passports. People tell me that there were passports in this country and that our ancient liberties did not disappear.
My Lords, the noble Lord has obviously not understood what I attempted to convey on their behalf. I was talking mainly about Jewish émigrés, who felt that they were coming to a country free of state intervention and control in a most general but pervasive way. That was the impression that I was trying to convey.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. Perhaps the difference was not that, but that they were in a country where a democratically elected government with universal franchise existed. That was not that prevalent before the Second World War, so they were entering a country in which they were secure, not because there was no identity card—there was—but because there was a democratically elected government. If you have a democratically elected government, you are trusted.
My Lords, it is pretty obvious from the debate that the Government will have a certain amount of difficulty getting the Bill on to the statute book so far as this House is concerned. I would like to put my position simply: I have always supported the need for a national identity register. Thus, I support the purpose behind the Bill, but I do not support the way in which the Bill proposes to achieve those purposes. I shall explain why in a moment. First, I would like to deal—from my own perspective, anyway—with the fundamentalist libertarian objections to an ID measure, such as worry the Liberal Democrats in particular.
It is the functions of a state that make such a measure necessary. The very concept of a state, rather than a primitive anarchical society, means that the state must have information about those within its borders if it is to perform its fundamental functions of keeping security from external and internal threats and of helping those of its citizens who need help. I am a Burkean Conservative. I believe that the role of a state is to hold the ring—to protect the citizen from exploitation or ill treatment, whether as an individual, consumer, employee or investor, in times of sickness, childhood or ill health. That is where I come from, but there is nothing new in that.
"In those days a decree was issued by the Emperor Augustus for a general registration throughout the Roman world. This was the first registration of its kind; it took place when Quirinius was governor of Syria".
Another example, about a thousand years later, was William the Conqueror's Domesday Book, which was a very full record of his property-holding subjects. It not only identified a tax base but codified a feudal social system that lasted for the next 800 years and is still of some use today. We must recognise that the function of the state requires such information in various ways.
The state should have a link, via a number, between the name and the biometric details of a person. A card can produce its own problems. First, it produces all those emotive fears of tyranny and dictatorship—"Vos papiers, monsieur" and so on. Secondly, I refer to a point made by my noble friend Lord Waddington: it seems that, as proposed by the Government, the card could lead to forgery because, as I understand it, it is to have on it a chip incorporating the biometric details of the holder. Last year, I took part in the passport service biometrics enrolment trial. My "demonstration card", as it is called—it states that I must not use it for anything—has a chip containing my photograph, fingerprints and iris recognition pattern. But if the chip is on the card, therein lies the danger. If someone presents a card with a name on it and the chip is used to identify what that person shows when he presses his finger or shows his eyes, it will be very easy for al-Qaeda or anyone else cleverly to produce a false card. It is essential not that the biometric details are on the card but that they are held centrally somewhere different, so that down the line the investigating people can take the biometric details from the person concerned and check them with the central register. That is how it should work.
My Lords, but it will not work in that way if the biometric details on the card are used. Someone could have faked the card, complete with the valid biometric details for that person.
The United States immigration service already checks the fingerprints and facial records of all arrivals against earlier records. It is building up its own database without basing the information on biometrics that exist. It takes your biometric details when you arrive using your two index fingers and your iris. That is way ahead of what the UK Immigration Service can do.
That brings me to one of my main concerns about the Government's aspirations. I simply do not believe that the Home Office is capable of introducing such a system as the Bill envisages—probably at any price. The noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, will be well aware of the shambles that occurred at the Home Office over an attempt to set up a central register of firearm certificate holders, which is required by Section 39 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997—I repeat: 1997. It still has not been done, although only some 300,000 records are needed. Since 1998, Lord Williams of Mostyn, the noble Lords, Lord Bassam and Lord Rooker, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, and most recently the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, herself, have told the House that the Government are fully committed to meeting their obligations under the Act. In June, the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, told me in a Written Answer that the Government were fully committed. Yet, on
It is not that large-scale computer systems in the public sector necessarily fail. I have mentioned two that work extremely well: the vehicle registration centre at Swansea, which has been going for 25 years, and Ken Livingstone's London congestion charge system, which works all too well for some of us—as a by-product, it gives much help to the police. The Home Office is the problem.
Let me mention one or two other defects. It is a mistake to limit the scheme to people of 16 years and over. Everyone born in the United Kingdom is given a National Health Service number. Interestingly, those NHS numbers were the same numbers as the old wartime identity cards to which reference has been made by a number of noble Lords. Recently, for reasons that I have never understood, all those numbers were changed to a new series. Why not, therefore, give the identity number and card, if there is to be one, at birth? Why not scrap the national insurance numbers that have been discredited for years? Perhaps the Minister will tell us how many more national insurance numbers exist than there are people in the system. Last time I heard, it was over a million.
I was interested to hear that from 2007 the first applicants for passports are to have personal interviews. Two of my grandchildren, now aged two and a half and five months, have had passports since they were three months old. At what age does this personal interview start? I can assure noble Lords that they would do their best.
There would be much more support if the Bill were to propose to scrap other numbers and focus on one number for the NHS, national insurance, passports, tax, criminal records and so on. We might then achieve some net savings. The information could be satisfactorily protected electronically. I shall do my best to support the Government in what they want to do, but frankly they will have to do it rather better than is proposed in the Bill at the moment.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Soley on his arrival in the House, and I welcome him. He is a great parliamentarian, and I have long admired him for his great commitment to social justice. I look forward to being his colleague here in the House. It was wonderful to hear him speak, and I know that we shall have that pleasure many times in the future.
I mention again my opposition to identity cards, of which I have spoken in the House on repeated occasions. The Government have told us that ID cards will help to deal with a panoply of crime: fraud, illegal immigration, benefit fraud, illegal working and so on. However, they never tell us exactly how any of that will be achieved. It is time that we heard how crime will be reduced by ID cards.
The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, described the processes of globalisation. All that serious crime, which is the underbelly of the free market, unfortunately is the kind of crime that I deal with regularly in the courts. Adam Hunt, who heads a government agency in New Zealand, is one of the foremost computer forensics and fraud experts in the world, and he has said very clearly:
"I have yet to encounter a form of identification that cannot be forged. The only thing that varies is the cost".
Even if the system of ID cards is really robust, the most that it will do is limit the use of forgeries to those with the funds: terrorists, foreign governments, high-end criminals such as fraudsters, gun-runners and drug importers—precisely the people of whom the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, has spoken. So those people will have no difficulty in forging or in obtaining forged documents. They will be unaffected by the system.
Will identity cards stop benefit fraud? Ninety-five per cent of benefit fraud is committed by false representations and not by false identities. People claiming asylum are already fingerprinted and given identification cards, so they are already covered. ID cards will work on illegal immigration only if they are made compulsory for all and only if they are produced on demand on pain of arrest. That is the only way that they will work. An ID card is not like a driving licence, when you can say, "I'll produce it at the police station in the next seven days". What possible help would that be if one thought one was dealing with an illegal immigrant who would then disappear into the ether?
We have to be clear and foresee the situation. We shall have compulsory ID cards that will have to be carried at all times. We could then have the spectacle described to me by a young Asian woman the other day. She was in Paris, queuing up to go up the Eiffel Tower, when she watched two French policemen cycling along, stopping and pulling aside a young Arab-looking man and asking him to produce his identification. He did so but was clearly very dejected and miserable about the process. The policemen examined it and went merrily on their way. I am sure it did not give him a sense of belonging. I am afraid that the ridiculous notion that somehow ID cards will create unification and embrace our new immigrants is pie-in-the-sky.
I must make it clear that I have no objection to enhancing passports, if that will help to control borders and create synergy with other countries. However, I object to the idea of an internal passport, which the Bill creates. Undoubtedly, brown- and black-faced men and boys in particular will be asked with regularity to produce the document. One of the policing issues that blighted race relations in this country was a feature of my early days at the Bar—the old business of the suspected persons laws. Of course, they applied to everyone, but they were selectively used against young black men, which created great alienation. Increasingly used is the stop-and-search provision—eight times more frequently used against young black people than it is against white people. There has been a 16 per cent increase in the stopping and searching of Arab- and Asian-looking young people since
Many people seem to be mystified when exception is taken to ID cards, thinking that they are going to be yet another convenience and an efficient addition to life, making it easier to open bank accounts, to obtain a mobile phone or to rent videos from the store. They will be just another card to slide in with their many pieces of plastic, such as the American Express card; a means of acquiring that to which they are entitled. What they do not realise is that we are creating something different from anything that exists in the rest of Europe. In fact, we are creating something unprecedented in the western world; that is, a national identity register. It was celebrated by the previous speaker, but it is something about which, I believe, we should have considerable alarm because of the way in which it will bring together huge quantities of information about us. The joining-up of databases creates such an affront to liberty.
We are told that the rest of Europe does it, so what is the problem? It is to succumb to the Napoleonic practice of having to prove one's identity to the state. What is misunderstood is the fundamental way in which identity cards change the relationship between the citizen and the state catastrophically and permanently. You will have to ask yourselves why most of the rest of Europe has at some time or another succumbed to fascism but we have not. Was that just luck? Was that something to do with the plucky British personality? No, the reason we are as a people the way we are is that we have had institutions and law built on an inherent scepticism of the state. And a good thing, too.
English law is based on the common law tradition, which is utterly and profoundly different from the system of law in the rest of Europe, which has the civil law system—the inquisitorial system. Although Scotland is something of a hybrid when it comes to law, in that regard it is very close to the English law system. No other common law country in the world has an identity card scheme. Ask yourselves why. The reason is that we built into the system of common law an understanding of how power works and how power will be abused.
We in Britain, as free citizens, know that we are not here courtesy of the state but that the state is here courtesy of us. That is the difference, and I will say it again: we are not here courtesy of the state, demanding of us that we say who we are and prove our identity; the state is here on our behalf. The collective wisdom acquired through our history and experience has fed into our culture. Values that are profoundly British are to be found in all that has gone into the making of our law. It is why the rule of law was invented here in Britain and exported to the rest of the world. It was not invented in any other part of Europe. The rule of law was saying that everyone, however mighty, was subject to law; that law mattered; and that law was not a tool of the state to be used only in the state's interests. It is why we were the first nation in the world to outlaw torture—gifted again as a principle to the world. We invented jury trial. Why? We wanted to keep the state from becoming too powerful, so we had ordinary people involved in the processes, making those basic decisions on guilt or innocence. And why was it that we invented the presumption of innocence; why did we say to the state, "You have to prove your case against me, the citizen"? It was because we know how the state can abuse. That is why we did not go down the road of the inquisitorial system, when the options came for the kind of law that we would have.
I find myself repeatedly rather shocked that we have to revisit the history of why we have that system. When we are stopped by a police office who says, "Who are you and where are you going?", we are entitled to say, "Why are you asking?". We are entitled to say, "Unless you give me a reason, you are not entitled to stop me". That establishes in us a spirit of citizenship of a kind that says, "We are not bowing easily to authoritarianism". It is why we are as we are. It is why we have to instil that word "why" in our children and in future generations. It is the word that should be seared into the heart of democrats. It is at the core of our citizenship.
So I go back to the question that I cannot help but reel from. That is, when there are attacks like this on the deeply rooted things that exist in our system that make living in Britain so precious, I cannot understand why we are not arguing more for those intangible assets. If we are going to talk about patriotism, they are the things that we should be patriotic about. This is not about jingoism; it is about the roots of our democracy and the traditions of our law. We are in the process of damaging them profoundly, not out of wickedness but out of failing to understand our history and why we are who we are.
My noble friend Lord Giddens said that the assertion of identity was a mechanism of freedom. A requirement to assert your identity is a mechanism of oppression, and that is why so many people in this country, when it is explained to them, will feel affronted by the idea that we are going to be the first common law country to carry identity cards.
The Government introduced the Bill with the intention of protecting the public. To give that protection, they seek power and the public will expect that it be exercised in trust for those for whose protection it is given. Power based on trust should be the key to our acceptance of the Bill. I am a fervent believer in human rights, our traditional values and our sense of liberty. But I also accept the dynamics of modern society: terrorism that is as technologically adept as the private citizen could ever hope to be; crime that uses the newest methods of information and communication to cause damage to us, the people; and immigration, the proper control of which is, whether we wish it or not, a predominant preoccupation among many. These are the fundamental features of our society and they are dynamic. I simply do not accept that in dealing with them the law as we have always known it should be static. But if power is to be based on trust, that power must be exercised within reasonable limits.
The Bill has three components: the principle, the implementation and the cost. On the principle, I accept the wisdom of others. As to the threat to our national security, particularly from terrorism, I adopt the measured approach of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew.
On crime I accept the advice of an experienced and eminent policeman, the noble Lord, Lord Stevens; on the importance of immigration I accept the knowledge of my noble friend Lord Gould with his particular experience of gauging public thinking; and on the threat I accept the wisdom of my noble friend Lord Bhattacharyya. We simply have to realise that they are ahead of us.
So the Bill in principle surely is acceptable. But it would be wrong, both in supporting it or opposing it, to descend into the apocalyptic. The principle is there to serve the protection of the public. The critical question, if that is a proper principle, is its implementation and the cost of it. Let us turn to the implementation. I have two, I hope, constructive proposals to make about it—one of detail, but important detail, and one more far reaching. The detail is that, to my surprise, under Clause 27(7) somebody who is in possession of apparatus and equipment for the production of passports is punishable only by a sentence of two years' imprisonment. I realise that there are more serious offences in that clause commanding a sentence of 10 years, but I find a maximum of two years for the carrier of apparatus to be used for the production of false identity cards to be hopelessly inadequate. That is a detail, but I hope that it illustrates that if we are to protect the public, let us protect them with some force where required.
The second proposal is a more general consideration about implementation—power based on trust. To give the Secretary of State, as the Bill does, nearly 60 statutory obligations and powers is remarkable in its extent, both numerically and in the scope of what it allows him or her to do. I do not object, provided there is adequate control and oversight. Why should the commissioner be responsible to the Government? Surely the commissioner should be responsible to the public to ensure that this statute is being properly applied with effect in the public interest, and be in a position to deal with any necessary changes or complaints by way of individual report or, in particular, by report to this House. That is no unreasonable restraint on executive power; it merely reflects the obligation on the Government to report to the people through an independent person on the exercise of powers as far ranging as these. Those are genuine concerns. If the provision is power based on trust, then it should be a proper and balanced agreement between those who exercise the power and those who give that power to be exercised.
I turn to the cost. Clause 42 is disarmingly brief. It simply gives power to the Secretary of State to spend whatever is required to implement the scheme. I am concerned. This is a massive exercise in administration, in finance and in planning. Government ministries are not the usual receptacles for such arrangements to be efficiently managed. They cause tremendous difficulty in public companies and commercial life. So I have some suggestions to make.
First, contracting should be privatised. The Government should contract for identity card manufacturing and changes with professional outside advisers—commercial, legal and technical—with the most powerful of penalty clauses and the ability of "we the people", paying our taxes to the Government, to make sure the supplier does his job effectively. It can be done. Every country in Europe that uses identity cards has done it without undue cost. Secondly, it should be phased in step by step to see how any changes needed can and should be made. Thirdly, the system should be maintained cost-effectively. Lastly, the cost-effectiveness should be reported on to Parliament. Expenditure in this area may run into billions of pounds. We are talking about an issue that is central to the security of our people. Its cost, prudently managed, is a topic for us all.
I have dealt with the powers, principles, implementation and cost. Those matters require legislative management of the Bill of great skill and care, such as we have come to expect from my noble friend—great skill and care not simply to achieve its passage but to do so in a way that commands public confidence. When, in trust, you give power and it succeeds, you command public confidence. When you give trust to power and it does not work, there is a failure of public confidence. That is unacceptable in a matter as grave is this.
I support the Bill, but I do so objectively, on the basis of reason and in the hope that where change becomes appropriate in Committee, it will be reasonably debated and, where sensible, properly accepted.
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to make a very brief contribution to this debate. One feature of being an elected politician is that one's opinions are frequently and, sometimes, painfully tested in the furnace of public opinion. When the Government announced that they were consulting on identity cards in August 2002, I decided to hold a consultation in my constituency. I sent the consultation paper to 100 organisations and individuals in Bristol East. That was followed up by a meeting with the then Minister, my right honourable friend Beverley Hughes MP, for her to be able to explain in more detail what the scheme would entail and for people who had contributed to the consultation to talk to her about it and to give their views.
Their written responses were overwhelmingly in favour, as they were during the course of the consultation. Most of the arguments advanced that morning have been aired—principally by my noble friends—but there was one that I have not heard from any noble Lord. It came from Asian women. My constituency was in the inner-city, by and large, and contained some areas of extreme deprivation. Those women lived in an area of Bristol that was not wealthy. They were passionately in favour of identity cards and wanted them as soon as possible. They said: "We either do not have passports or do not have access to our passports because our husbands or fathers have them. We are not allowed to have bank accounts. We do not have savings accounts. We do not have store cards. We do not have utility bills. We do not exist. If we are victims of domestic violence and we go to the local authority housing office, wanting to be rehoused—by the way, people for the local authority housing office were there that day, who confirmed this—we cannot prove who we are. That puts the local authority in a really difficult position in helping us, because they must know who we are. So, if the Government made the scheme compulsory, we could go to our husbands or fathers and say, 'We must do this', and we would become someone".
So let us remember when we talk about people's human rights that there are people who do not have the human rights that many of us take for granted who live in this country.
My Lords, we have had an interesting debate on this very controversial Bill. My own analysis so far indicates that almost 17 Members are in favour of the legislation and almost as many are against. I assume that the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, will follow her party line. An interesting factor is that some supporters of the Bill have reservations about a number of its aspects.
The Bill was introduced in February 2005. But despite its receiving a Second Reading at that time, we were not prepared to give consent for it to proceed beyond that stage. There have been minor changes to that enabling measure since then but our objections remain and our position has not changed. My noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury is right: we oppose the Bill.
I offer three main reasons for our opposition. One reason cited by noble Lords on this side of the House, and one of the most important ones, is that the Bill affects the fundamental relationship between the individual and the state, so ably demonstrated by the Select Committee on the Constitution, which reported last week. The constitutional significance of the changes has been well spelt out.
I commend my noble friend Lord Holme of Cheltenham on his contribution. I do not dispute that the Bill's provisions were included in the Labour Party manifesto. I have no problem with that—in case at some stage the Government think it appropriate to use the Parliament Act. But your Lordships' House, when we talk about constitutional matters, should look very carefully at noble and learned Lords' comments on matters of constitutional importance in the Hunting Act. They ought to be taken very seriously. I have the judgment with me, but I do not intend to refer to it at this stage.
The second reason for our opposition is that the Bill impinges on rights and liberties that we have enjoyed since the days of Magna Carta. Again, I commend the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, on that.
The third and most important reason relates to the Bill's purpose. In key areas of national security, identity cards cannot protect us from terrorists or acts of terrorism, and we do not believe that they will help us to tackle benefit fraud or substantial health fraud. In addition, ID cards have serious cost implications, of which so many noble Lords cited examples. In essence, it is a flawed system and will seriously harm community relations, particularly through its effect on certain groups in society, so often identified by many noble Lords in the context of stop-and-search (SAS) laws and related issues.
The Select Committee on the Constitution has produced an important report. I hope that reports of this nature will be debated in your Lordships' House. What is important about it is that the membership of the Constitution Committee comprises some of the most distinguished Members of your Lordships' House. The conclusions they have reached ought to be taken very seriously. The committee gave the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, an opportunity to put the Government's case. But there remains a serious concern that the scheme envisaged will record in a single database,
"more information about the lives and characteristics of the entire adult population than has ever been considered necessary or attempted previously in the United Kingdom", and in response to those who advocate the case in the rest of Europe, let me add these words from the report,
"or indeed in any other western country".
Why do we need so much information? That is not the case in many of the western countries cited by noble Lords opposite. Let me start with some of the possible assumptions the Government have made in their consultation document, Entitlement Cards and Identity Fraud. We are told that a card scheme could be a powerful weapon in combating illegal immigration. If that is the case, why do we not sort out the chaotic immigration procedure that lets in illegal entrants? We are to have biometric passports whether we like it or not; they will be introduced. But we have a choice which identity cards do not offer, and compulsion must be next in line.
If we had proper, managed migration, a proper system of admission of those economic migrants whose services we require and a proper method of dealing with those who are genuinely being persecuted and are seeking refuge here, identity cards then become less relevant. Identity cards cannot be forced upon people who enter this country. They will not have a card when they come here to seek refuge. The cards are designed for those lawfully settled in this country. How identity cards will stop illegal entrants baffles the imagination.
We have said that we would support a system of immigration based on the United Kingdom's needs. We will support a system which is designed to help refugees and to deal effectively with those who enter the country unlawfully. Identity cards will do no such thing. To set up this aspect of policy as an end to all illegal immigration is just not true. It is not possible. It may placate the tabloid newspapers, but its impact would be negligible. The noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington, has been a good friend. He had my full support when he was the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. But by their own admission the Government have confirmed that the Bill is unlikely to make any difference to the general powers of the police to stop people for no reason or to demand proof of identity. So all the hoo-hah that someone can simply produce an identity card when they are stopped by the police is just a nonsense. There is no obligation on anyone to do that.
The only justification the police have is to obtain quicker and more reliable access to confirmed identification so that the time spent in police custody is reduced. But I am afraid that that also makes no sense. I have served as a magistrate, I have worked in prisons and I worked for the Commission for Racial Equality. Large numbers of suspects provide adequate information when questioned, and at present many stops and searches do not lead to a process of arrest. Identity cards are only marginal so far as policing matters are concerned. The police do not like fishing expeditions. Intelligence-based policing is more likely to be effective than identity cards.
Quite simply, the Bill before us specifically prohibits any regulations whose effect would be to require an individual to carry an identity card with him at all times. But of course that position may change at some stage.
If this is the case, it would be of little help to the police service.
We know that the Bill has had a very difficult birth. Let us cast our minds back and consider the headlines in the old days when David Blunkett was the Home Secretary and he faced serious opposition from some of his own colleagues in the Cabinet. But every time the argument has been knocked down by the Opposition, the Government have come up with a new one. Even magicians will confirm that there is a limit to how many rabbits you can produce from one hat. The Government must now be, I suspect, scraping the bottom of the barrel as far as this legislation is concerned.
According to the Government, you do not have to carry the card. If that is the case, how will it be effective against terrorism? Even if it is made compulsory, will it stop terrorism? The Government should speak to the police in Madrid—we did—and ask them if identity cards would have made a difference there. They did not believe that having an identity card would have made any difference whatever; it would not have helped to stop the terrorist attack. It is absurd to think that ID cards would have stopped the bombings of our Tube and buses undertaken by the British-born terrorists on
Of course we acknowledge the serious threat of terrorism. In the majority of cases that have been identified, terrorists did not use false or multiple identities. The problem of passport fraud, identified by the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, will be, to an extent, resolved when the international community reaches a decision on the kind of passport required.
Past evidence in the United Kingdom, the United States and other countries abroad demonstrates that terrorists are capable of carrying out atrocities without changing their identities. Identity cards are of little relevance to those who are hell bent on destroying themselves. We may know the identity of someone, but that does not tell us what they are about to do. Let us take, for example, the classic case of Richard Reid, the so-called shoe bomber. Even if he had had an identity card, would it have given a clue about what he was about to do? Those who wish to destroy themselves do not care whether or not they have an identity document. This pattern is well established among suicide bombers. The Government's argument is seriously flawed if they think that this is the way to stop terrorists or their activities.
Let me put another point. If this matter is so urgent and the threat from terrorists in this country is so compelling, why will we have to wait eight to 10 years for the system to become compulsory? If we need it for that reason, surely we need it now. This does not make sense at all. I do not dispute that an identity card would provide people who are lawfully resident in the United Kingdom with a means of confirming their identity to a high degree of assurance. The problem is that it will stop neither terrorism nor illegal immigration, the planks on which the identity card argument was based in the first instance.
The Government's other objective is to help people gain entitlement to products and services provided by both public and private sectors, particularly those who might find it difficult to do so at present—we do not dispute that—and there is of course benefit and health fraud, but I fail to see what that has to do with identity. The vast amount of health and benefit fraud that occurs in the United Kingdom would not be stopped by the availability of identity cards. Is it not the case that only 5 per cent of cases involve individuals pretending to be someone they are not?
The cost implications of the introduction of ID cards still remain a mystery. How much will it cost? What technology do the Government have in mind? This is a major national investment which requires intense security. It has to be evaluated on the basis of the other cards and other identity documents that many people possess.
Who will operate the system, and who will be responsible for the protection of readable data? Is the Data Protection Act enough to protect that information? What guarantees are there that they will not be accessed for other purposes? It can be acceptable when a government are sympathetic, but information stored on identity cards in the hands of a government who are not sympathetic, particularly on immigration and other matters, could be put to some very worrying uses.
The Government have not had much luck with computerised services. We have been given examples of where they have worked, but those of us who have worked in the criminal justice system know jolly well that in many cases the services have not delivered what they have set out to do. We will need a lot of convincing that a foolproof system that will not break down is available.
Even before these questions have been answered, we see the unique situation in Wales. The National Assembly for Wales, under devolved powers, can take its own decision about ID cards on health provision. It has said that it will not ask for ID cards. Here is an example of the first unilateral declaration of independence from that Labour stronghold. Listening to the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, I suspect that that may happen in Scotland as well.
There is a serious concern in the regulatory impact assessment about complex procedures and cultural problems. We have seen the impact of stop-and-search powers on our black and minority ethnic communities. The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants has produced research evidence from Europe which suggests that,
"black and ethnic minority British nationals could be disproportionately targeted on the basis of race for identity checks by the police, immigration officials or other public service officials".
The other issue identified by the regulatory impact assessment is that only certain groups will be asked for proof of identity. I suspect that like the anti-terrorist legislation that caused so many problems for the Government, this provision is likely to be considered disproportionate in its use, discriminatory towards foreign nationals and adversarial in its impact on black and ethnic minority people in this country.
We want to know the true cost of the system; more importantly, we want to know, when fully operational, what will be the financial contribution of each citizen in the UK, together with the cost of the biometric readable passport that we will be obliged to produce. Then we can argue about what alternatives are available to us in place of ID cards, such as more police, more intelligence officers and more spending on secure borders.
There is so much information available on the citizens of this country. Their shopping habits, the products they buy and their financial standing are a by-product of the credit card system.
The success of a national identity card depends on a sensitive, cautious and co-operative approach, involving all key stakeholder groups, including an independent and rolling risk of assessment and a regular review of management practices. In essence, we are not convinced that we understand and agree with the scheme. Costs, no matter how the Government define them, will be excessive on society or the individual. We are not convinced that it can work or be effective, and we have no doubt that its impact on society and civil liberty will be extensive. We shall oppose this measure.
My Lords, this has been an outstanding debate, where strongly held views have been expressed with conviction, highlighting the important issues which need to be thrashed out in Committee. Like many noble Lords, I agree with your Lordships' Select Committee on the Constitution that the Bill adjusts the fundamental relationship between the individual and the state. Like my noble friend Lord Waddington, I am mindful of the words of the Lord Chief Justice Goddard—no liberal he—in 1951, in the case of Wilcock v. Muckle when he directed magistrates to give an absolute discharge to anyone refusing to show an ID card. He said:
"To demand production of the card from all and sundry . . . is wholly unreasonable. To use Acts of Parliament passed for particular purposes in wartime when the war is a thing of the past tends to turn law-abiding subjects into lawbreakers, which is a most undesirable state of affairs".
I have seen many things in my time in politics, but I never thought that I would see the day when a Labour Government were made to look illiberal by Lord Goddard. Doubtless, the noble Baroness, when she next dines with her legal chums and remembers happier days when she had justice and liberty blowing wind in her sails rather than battling against her on Bill after Bill, will reflect on that.
Party and principle are sometimes difficult bedfellows and I feel for some of those noble Lords opposite whose loyalty to their great party I instinctively understand and admire, but who cannot truly believe that the Government have even begun to make a case for what will be the most costly electronic procurement of state power over the individual yet seen in the free world. They will have to wrestle with their consciences over the weeks ahead for, yet again, if freedom is not carelessly to be curtailed, it will fall to this House to be a safeguard of liberty.
I was brought up to believe that the great thing about English liberty was that there was no restriction on your freedom to go where you please or do what you wished so long as you broke no law and did no harm to others. In fact, I thought that that was what the Second World War was all about. However, with this Bill, in five years, we could be in a society where production of an ID card is required before you are let into a hospital. What a chilling prospect that is. No doubt it is one way to dragoon in all those vulnerable elderly people who will not be caught in the rollout of the so-called voluntary scheme.
It is an odd feature of the Government's strategy that those who will be left needing compulsion will very largely be made up of older pensioners and the poorest teenagers, who either cannot or cannot afford to, travel or drive. How many council tax martyrs will this strategy create? As the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, said, the plastic poll tax, it would be indeed. The more I think of the many disturbing issues raised by noble Lords today, the more uneasy I become.
Five major threads have run through this debate. The first is that pointed out by the constitution committee—and when she replies, will the Minister therefore say whether she will alter the Bill in any of the ways that the committee asked? This Bill does change the fundamental relationship between citizen and state because—let us not be under any illusion—its aim is to enable a compulsory identity card scheme and to do it by stealth. There is not a single person who believes that a government who have spent billions and billions of the nation's treasure on making a compulsory ID card possible will not also want to make it happen. If they have no such aim, will the Minister be laying amendments in Committee to remove Section 6 and all related parts? I do not think so.
I agree with the noble Lords who say that compulsion should come in separate primary legislation. Labour Members in another place have pointed out that there was no mention in Labour's manifesto of a compulsory scheme. Why did the manifesto not tell the British people that? Why should this fundamental step—and so many other significant steps in this Bill—be taken by secondary legislation? Will this House be able to block compulsion under the super-affirmative procedure? This House may agree to a Bill making ID cards compulsory one day, but we would surely be very unwise to give up our powers over that decision in this Bill.
The second thread in the debate is the fear expressed by the Information Commissioner that the Government, without ever explaining what they are doing, are building a surveillance society. The Bill is about spreading ID cards by compulsion while pretending to be cuddly and voluntary and ever so helpful. Noble Lords have commented on the need to probe this aspect, so will the Minister list for the House in her reply exactly what are planned to be the designated documents under Clause 4? I know she will have thought about that carefully. If she cannot answer today, will she, before Committee, lay in the Library a paper saying when designation will be made for each designated document, what the cost of the document will be, and the full cost of preparing and administering it?
If it is compulsory to have a passport to travel abroad, and if it is to be a condition of having a passport to provide ID information and biometrics, how is the ID card scheme voluntary for any Briton wanting to leave our country? Can the Minister confirm that the Passport Agency is currently building 70 interrogation centres, to which people will have to go from 2006 if they wish to have a new passport?
The head of the Passport Agency says that, by the end of 2006, 600,000 people a year will pass through interrogation centres. Will she confirm that, as he said, from late 2008, more than 4.5 million British citizens—"all and sundry", Lord Goddard might have said—will be interrogated and fingerprinted each year? When did Parliament agree this? When were the British people told? Mr Herdan went on to say that this will lead on "pretty seamlessly" into the ID card regime using face fingerprints and iris biometrics. How many people know that when their passport runs out they will be summoned to an interrogation centre before being allowed to buy a few cans of beer in Calais?
Will the powers being taken under Section 28 of the Road Safety Bill, which will make it a criminal offence to refuse to hand in a driving licence and buy a new one specified by the Secretary of State, be used in connection with the rollout of the ID card scheme? Does not the enforced recall of perfectly good licences, and the creation of a criminal offence of refusal to hand them in, smack a bit more of compulsion than of voluntarism? How much will that nationwide product recall cost? Again, when were the British people told about that? Probing the details of this rollout of what amounts to compulsory volunteering will be the more laborious because of the deplorably skeletal nature of this Bill, but probe it we must.
The third main concern in the debate has been over costs. We need to know far more about the cost of this plan. There is too much creative accounting; too much laying off of expenses that would not otherwise have been incurred as if they had nothing in the world to do with the ID card scheme. Why otherwise are we going far beyond the level of biometrics in passports required by other nations? Parliament needs to build in tripwires, giving far tighter control over what is being done and spent. That too we will have to pursue in Committee.
Outside Whitehall, the recent LSE report rings true and Home Office costings sound hollow. If someone was told that he could have between £1,000 and £3,000 a head to spend for every person in Britain to improve our lives, does anyone think he would choose ID cards while schools, hospitals and pensions went lacking? Probably no-one except the Prime Minister thinks that. Socialism used to be the language of priorities. How sad that its voice has been so strangely stilled.
The fourth concern is the concern over workability. My noble friend Lady Anelay dealt with that brilliantly as did my noble friend Lord Northesk and many other noble Lords. The Government plan to build one of the biggest databases ever known on a system of biometrics that even the Minister now admits is imperfect. The Government plan to make travel and access to health and benefits conditional on participating in a system that could go wrong tens of thousands of times a year. What a recipe for waste and injustice is that, even if it is not the hackers' and forgers' charter a number of noble Lords reasonably fear? Is it not amazing that only now, long after the stealth strategy was cobbled up, the Chief Scientist is being asked to consider whether it will all actually work? We hear that he is holding his first meeting next month. Should not Parliament ask why this scheme is being launched in such a scaring hurry? Should not Parliament ask, as the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, asked, whether it is wise to pass so far-reaching a Bill in haste when so many basic questions remain unanswered?
That leads to the final concern in this debate. What actually is the purpose of it all? Why this? Why now? The Home Secretary accepts that terrorists who court martyrdom and eternal memory are not going to be put off by ID cards. The perpetrators of 7/7 actually wanted to be identified. The purpose of all this, as so many noble Lords have said, should be the first thing we get to probe in Committee. It will help us all to know that there is more reason for the freest country in the world building the world's most elaborate system of state registration of identity than a personal passion of one politician whose political life is ebbing away. Can the noble Baroness say in two crisp sentences what it is all about? For one thing unites us all—we do rather want to know.
My Lords, I shall ask my noble friend Lady Anelay to answer that.
My Lords, I always think that it is fair that, when one is challenged as I was by the noble Lord, Lord Desai, the person challenged should do the answering. The noble Lord will know that there are very few luxuries in opposition. One is to wait and see what a disaster is left behind when this Government leave before making up one's mind.
My Lords, I suppose that I could tell the noble Baroness about the disaster that was left in 1997, but I think that we would here for a long time.
I start by saying what a wonderful debate this has been. I say "wonderful" because it has had depth, breadth, erudition and passion from all sides of the House. For me it has been an unusual pleasure because arrayed behind me has been wholehearted and unreserved support. It is an experience that I shall treasure and hope will be oft-repeated.
I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, that I think that for once his mathematics may be a little awry. I think that I counted more than 22 in favour of the Bill and some who are in favour in principle but, quite legitimately, question some of the issues on control. So it has been a truly excellent debate.
It is important, however, for us to put this debate into context. A number of very interesting and significant points have been made. I think that it is right, as was said by my noble friend Lord Brennan, that apocalyptic allusions do not assist us. We have to be calm, clear and balanced. There are also certain matters that we need to bear in mind. It is not correct to say that the scheme is unique in the western world, as was suggested by my noble friend Lady Kennedy.
In my opening remarks I alluded to the 21 out of the 25 countries that currently have identity schemes. It is right to remind your Lordships that Denmark has a national population register, Cyprus, a common law country, has an ID—
My Lords, before the noble Baroness continues, I ask her a question, which is the correct way of doing this. She says that this scheme is unique. This scheme relies on 13 biometric identifiers stored in a centralised database. Can she say categorically where else in the world that is taking place?
My Lords, I do not say that it is unique; others say that it is. As regards the point made by my noble friend Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, Cyprus, which is a common law country, has an identity card scheme. There are approximately 40 projects in 31 countries involving identity storage, the majority incorporating biometric details. Noble Lords will know that the reason we have identified the 13 biometric identifiers is so that we can maximise the opportunity for correctly identifying individuals in a way that will be meaningful and sound.
As was alluded to by the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, among others, the reality is that the biometric passports will come in in 2006. As was said by my noble friends Lord Bhattacharyya and Lord Harris, that is simply inescapable. We have discussed before why that is so. I refer to the United States making the measure compulsory for those who wish to take advantage of the visa waiver scheme—biometric data in passports will have to be provided. With the EU moving to use biometric passports—
My Lords, I hate to be a nuisance but will the noble Baroness confirm that the International Civil Aviation Organisation has been absolutely adamant that what is not required as an international standard is a biometric passport; what actually is required is a digitised version of the biometric? That is one of the fictions which the Government consistently parade as a justification for the Identity Cards Bill. It is very important that it should be knocked on the head.
My Lords, I am sure that we shall debate the detail of this matter in Committee as regards how the biometric data will be used. Noble Lords will know that one cannot travel to America without giving one's fingerprints and having one's photograph taken. If anyone has travelled to America in the past few months, they will have had that experience as, indeed, I did when I attended a conference in Atlanta. Whether one likes it or not, one's fingerprints are taken and one's biometric photograph is taken at the same time.
That is where we are going; that is the thing that we have to recognise. My noble friend Lord Giddens was right to say that globalisation has brought about dramatic changes. The world in which we now live is significantly different from that we have inhabited to date. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, explained why that was the case in his powerful speech.
Noble Lords have rightly asked whether we have the technology and the expertise and whether it will work. That has been a huge plank of today's debate. Many concerns have been expressed about the technical viability of the prescribed scheme. We recognise that there are challenges. Projects such as this will always face such challenges and opinions in the field of technology will differ. However, the body of representations within industry, existing project experience and research by established experts in the field of biometrics and database technology indicate that we are right to proceed with our plans at this stage. As with all major government projects, the technology behind the identity card scheme will ultimately come from the industry, and key sections of the industry are telling us that the technology can work.
An identity technology advisory group representing leading technology companies in this field says that if the UK decides to pursue such a scheme it will work. The industry can also point to a number of existing technology projects run successfully, including many for the United Kingdom Government using large databases. We have already referred to the UK Passport Service, the DWP payment modernisation programme, enabling direct payments; the biometrics are being used in relation to facilitating biometric passports and there are many large databases in operation already. The FBI AFIS database has 47 million sets of fingerprints, and the US MOD staff programme holds 22 million. The US-VISIT system had 4 million biometric records as of July 2004; at that time it was growing at the rate of 35,000 records a day. In the UK IDENT 1, the successor of NAFIS, the national automated fingerprint identification system, holds six million sets of prints. The technology that we have at the moment leads us to believe that we are in a good position.
The United Kingdom Passport Service trial in June 2005, although not intended as a test of technology, showed that 100 per cent of able-bodied participants and 99.954 per cent of all participants could register at least some of the biometrics. That is why we are on record as preferring the 13 biometrics so that we can capture them. I declare an interest as someone with brown eyes and I thank noble Lords for their concern for my well-being. The UK Passport Service trial showed that through the use of multiple biometrics many such problems can be overcome. Many simply relate to the environmental conditions, which can be easily addressed.
My Lords, will the noble Baroness address the issue that I illustrated in my speech? For Heaven's sake, please understand this. The mathematics of probability tend to indicate that there is a sliding scale of accuracy and deliverability the more biometrics are used. That is a function of probability. To what extent have the Home Office techies and the Government taken account of that simple fact?
My Lords, I reassure the noble Earl that all those facts are being taken into account. I am sure that the noble Earl is not suggesting that the coincidence of having biometric data that identify the face, the eyes and the 10 biometric identifiers from the fingers all taken together, if they all coincide, means that it is less likely that it is the person that is so identified.
I am sure we will enjoy the opportunity in Committee to discuss those issues, on which there is clearly not total agreement. The view expressed by the Government is that the data are sufficiently robust to make us confident that those matters can be safely overcome. We were asked on a number of occasions what the purposes of the Bill are. I hope that in my opening I made clear the purposes in relation to national security, prevention and detection of crime, immigration control, illegal working and the basis on which people can be identified. All those purposes were clearly outlined and we will come to discuss them in greater detail.
The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, rightly raised the issue of what will happen if one has more than two names. I assure noble Lords that Clause 1(7)(a) and (b) enable both or all the names by which someone is known to be registered in a way that gives clarity.
On the question of the audit log, the provision of the audit and information to the police will be possible only in relation to serious crime. It will not be generally available if the issues are not serious. Not all crime, as the noble Lord suggested, will be affected. We recognise that information should be subject to a higher level of protection.
My Lords, it refers to crime, which is why Committee will be important. We have made it plain in the other place, and I make it plain now, that we are using the test of serious crime. We recognise that there is a line to be drawn, and that we can seek to make it even clearer.
I come to the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, about this House being prevented from modifying orders in relation to compulsion. Compulsion was a huge issue during the debate. I assure noble Lords that Clause 7 allows this House to amend or modify any proposal for compulsion. The effect of Clause 7(2)(c) is that either House—I emphasise that—can amend the report containing a proposal for compulsion. Only if the proposal is approved by both Houses can an order be made to give effect to it. That order is itself subject to the normal affirmative procedure. In summary, this House could amend any proposal for compulsion, and must then vote to approve any resulting order before it can come into force.
We have made it plain that the issue will need to be discussed in detail. I assure noble Lords—some have raised the point outside the Chamber—that a super-affirmative order under Clause 7 can be made only in an approved report setting out the proposal for compulsion. The noble Baroness, among others, says that she would prefer primary legislation. We will debate that. My honourable friend Mr Burnham—the Minister with primary responsibility for this policy area—made it clear, as I have made it clear, that the Government are listening on how best that will work.
We were also asked to consider how soon we would move to compulsion. Noble Lords will know well that we have not been precise in terms of timetable for the move to compulsory registration. That is in the second phase of the scheme. Not only will that be subject to approval by Parliament, but government will need to be satisfied that initial rollout of identity cards has been a success before moving to compulsion. That is a sensible and proportionate way forward. There are specific safeguards in Clause 18 to prevent private sector organisations demanding a card or consent to check against the register as the only proof of identity before it becomes compulsory to register with the scheme. I say that to try to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, who was concerned that that would not be possible.
As well as civil remedies in the courts being available to the individual against the organisations involved, as spelt out in Clause 18(3), part of the National Identity Scheme Commissioner's remit is uses to which information from the register of ID cards is to be put. Any complaint about unlawful demands that cards be produced or the register checked will be investigated by the commissioner, who could recommend removal of the offending organisation's accredited status. It would then no longer be entitled to verify identity against the register. Concerns on that basis will be capable of being dealt with well.
The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, asked whether we had a draft code of practice on civil penalties. I assure her that we will try at least to indicate in Committee the areas that the code of practice will cover. She will know that it would be inappropriate and improper to do anything more than give an indication before the House had decided what to do with the Bill.
I move to some of the specific issues. I thank my noble friend Lord Soley who, in his maiden speech, captured so much warmth and attention in the House about illegal working on immigration. He is absolutely right that it is a major issue. I agree with him that we need to do more to prevent vulnerable people being taken advantage of by unscrupulous employers. We very much feel that the provisions will help us.
The noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, and the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, asked me about designated cards. Only government-issued documents can be designated under Clause 4. I assure them that there is no power in the Bill to designate credit cards or other documents issued by private bodies.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, raised the issue of the Data Protection Act. That will continue to bite. The rights of the data subjects will remain, as will all data protection rights. We have always made it clear that subject access requests under Section 7 of the Data Protection Act will remain available.
The issue of fishing expeditions was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Holme. Due to the way in which we have structured the Bill, it will not be possible to go on fishing expeditions. No organisation will have direct access to the register, with or without consent. Information will be provided only in relation to a specific request. There will be no browsing, as has been suggested.
With regard to officials in the agency who will be responsible for matters relating to ID cards and passports, working procedures and technical systems are being designed so that all authorities within the agency will be tracked and each person will be accountable for his or her actions. So any unauthorised access will generate alerts. The Bill lays out offences for tampering or unauthorised access to, as well as unauthorised disclosure of, information from the register.
My Lords, other western democracies have a record of all the identity cards issued. If they did not have a record, one would not know who was who. Before the Committee stage, I shall try to obtain for noble Lords specific information on how other countries deal with this matter. Our national register may be expressed differently but, so far as I understand it, most other countries have a means of recording this information. They may call it something different but they each have a means of running a database.
Noble Lords suggested that the register was somehow a major threat to individual privacy. I remind noble Lords that the register is concerned with identity information. It will not be a combination of existing separate databases and so it will not include medical records, financial or tax records, criminal records or driving records.
We do not accept that ID cards and responsibility for the register should be at arm's length from government. Some of my noble friends say to me, "Go further. You should do more", and my noble friends Lord Campbell-Savours and Lord Harris say that this is a great opportunity for us to do more. I reassure them that the Bill provides an opportunity for information to be kept on a voluntary basis. Clause 3(2) allows voluntary information to be added to an entry on request if it is in a category set out in the regulations. We do not think that other information should be compulsorily required, but there is an opportunity to include it. I am conscious of the time.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. This point is germane to the remark that she has just made to her colleagues behind her and to her earlier comments when she said that there was no danger of the register containing, for example, health records. Am I right in saying that Clause 3(5) gives the Secretary of State the right to modify the information contained in the register without limit? She may say, "We have no intention of using that power to put on that kind of information", but she cannot speak for her successors.
My Lords, we have made clear the mechanism by which things are added, and we shall have an opportunity to consider, talk about and challenge those issues before the changes are made. The Bill makes absolutely clear the kind of information that we are going to invite people to give compulsorily. That does not include the other information to which we have referred. I listen very carefully to a number of my noble friends on the Benches behind me who say that a huge opportunity is being missed. We hear that, but we have come to the conclusion that we must have a balanced view on these matters, and that balance rests where we currently find it. These provisions are not without limit and are consistent only with statutory purposes tied into the registrable facts in Clause 1. I believe I have dealt with that. I set out earlier the five criteria which must apply. I hope that is clear.
On the issue of costs, the last of the concerns raised during the debate, I have already said that the cost of the ID card scheme will be £584 million per year. That is our genuine estimate. We recognise that there are concerns about costs and thus the Government have sought independent assurance of their costings. KPMG, which I hope noble Lords will acknowledge is a large, world-class audit and accounting firm, was commissioned to review our costings. Its report confirms that the costing methodology used is robust and appropriate. Additionally, the programme is subject to the Office of Government Commerce gateway process. The identity card scheme has just passed the second gateway, which is business justification. Thus the Government are confident in their estimate for this stage of the development of the scheme and so too are the independent experts. These are robust figures that will do well.
I listened with great interest to the comments made by the noble Earls, Lord Erroll and Lord Northesk, on central databases. I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I do not go into great detail on that, but I am sure that we shall be able to explore them very fully in Committee. My noble friend Lord Dubs said that £30 is too much. I can reassure him that the Bill provides power to set fees, and that includes power to make exemptions and exceptions and to make different provision for different cases. In setting the fees, consideration will be given to setting discounted fees or waiving fees, for example, for those on very low incomes or in disability groups.
It is intended to make a plain identity card available for Irish nationals that would not be valid as a travel document and so need not recall the holder's nationality. We understand the concerns about that and we have sought to deal with them.
The noble Earl, Lord Northesk, and the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, raised the point about the Home Affairs Select Committee. The noble Earl suggested that the Home Affairs Select Committee did not support the case for identity cards, while the committee made a number of recommendations to which the Government have responded. It said in paragraph 279 of its report:
"We believe that the Government has made a convincing case for proceeding with the introduction of identity cards".
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, that I warmly welcome his support in principle for the Bill. I understand his concerns about the register. I look forward to the debate that we shall have on that and I assure him that ID cards will be nothing like the register.
I look forward to the trenchant debates that we shall have, and I thank my noble friend Lord Brennan and all who have spoken so warmly in support of the Bill. I see the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, rises to speak about children. I have at least five minutes of notes for her on children. They are complex issues but, in view of the time, I shall write to the noble Baroness and to all noble Lords on whose specific issues I have notes as I cannot do them justice this evening.
On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.