Identity Cards Bill

– in the House of Lords at 8:10 pm on 15 November 2005.

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House again in Committee on Clause 1.

Photo of Baroness Seccombe Baroness Seccombe Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, (Assisted By Shadow Law Officers), Spokespersons In the Lords, (Assist the Home Affairs Team)

Before I begin, for the convenience of the Committee I can say that my noble friend Lady Anelay will not move Amendment No. 7.

Amendment No. 5 seeks to assert a principle that will lie behind many of our amendments to the Bill. That is so because, as the Constitution Committee of your Lordships' House rightly said, the Bill brings about a fundamental change in the relationship between the citizen and the state. Every aspect of it must be tightly controlled by Parliament.

We fought a civil war and had two revolutions in the 17th century precisely to ensure parliamentary protection for the citizen against the encroachment on our freedoms by the executive. Parliament must not yield an inch of ground to the secretive and ever-more powerful 21st-century electronic state. Not even Queen Elizabeth I's infamous Walsingham aspired to build up an audit trail of the activities of the Queen's loyal subjects.

I have read carefully the opinions of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee of your Lordships' House. It has made many important observations on the sweeping secondary powers in this skeleton Bill. It is skeleton not for the convenience of the public or of Parliament but of Ministers, who patently do not yet know, or will not say, what in detail they intend. Will the noble Baroness or the noble Lord give a commitment that they will accept all the recommendations of that committee and lay amendments at this stage of the Bill wherever possible? That would certainly speed up its consideration.

For the avoidance of doubt, I should say that we do not share the committee's view that this is a Bill for compulsion with a voluntary period preceding it. We have done what the committee could not do—we have read the Labour Party manifesto and found nothing in it either about compulsion or about compulsory volunteering. It is essential that Parliament controls encroachments on freedoms, particularly those of which no notice was given to the British public. Indeed, the Labour Party manifesto was explicit that a scheme would be rolled out,

" on a voluntary basis as people renew their passports".

"On a voluntary basis"—that is what the Government put to the people only six months ago. If the committee had seen that, it would not have construed that there was any mandate for compulsion. Indeed, the manifesto was explicit that even in relation to the issuing of passports, the scheme would be voluntary. That is not the Bill before us. The Executive cannot simply move the goalposts in a matter that the Constitution Committee has found to be so fundamental. Parliament must control every step, every pound that is spent, and the amendment is earnest of that.

I draw the Committee's attention to paragraph 60 of the Explanatory Notes to the Bill:

"The exact specification and design of ID cards has yet to be determined but when it is these will be set out in regulations".

Is it not remarkable that a government should set out on such a far-reaching, fantastically costly and probably unreliable scheme without even having worked out what the cards will look like or how they will operate? That is the open admission of Ministers: "We do not know exactly what we want, but when we do we shall tell you and put unamendable regulations before you". When was that a proper basis for legislation that will tax every Briton simply for being alive? Parliament must have far greater opportunities to control this situation and, if necessary, amend it.

I sincerely hope that the Minister will accept the amendment and that in replying he will point to the sentence that I must have missed in the manifesto which talks of compulsion or of compulsory volunteering and that he will tell us the exact specification and design of the ID cards. The public, whose money is being spent on this—rather than on schools and hospitals—have a right to know. I beg to move.

Photo of The Earl of Erroll The Earl of Erroll Crossbench

This amendment gives me an opportunity to say what I should have said on the previous amendment in reply to the Minister. An agency is planned for this, and the Minister said that that would make it subject to parliamentary scrutiny or control. I have always understood that one problem with agencies is that we could not ask questions of the Minister about them, as agencies are separate bodies. Agencies are responsible to Ministers and to the charters that set them up, but as long as they operate within that, Parliament cannot ask questions directly about what they get up to or how they operate. I may be wrong, but I would like some clarification.

Photo of Lord Lyell of Markyate Lord Lyell of Markyate Conservative

The amendment is short and pertinent, and I shall try to make a short and pertinent speech in support of it. As Clause 1(1) sets out the fundamental purpose of the Bill—namely,

"to establish and maintain a register of individuals (to be known as 'the National Identity Register')"

—all the subsidiary legislation and, above all, Schedule 1, hang on this. As my noble friend Lady Seccombe said, it is essential that Parliament should keep the tightest control on this. I would have thought that the Minister would agree and that he would find it acceptable to add the words to the Bill, which, after all, still leave a good deal of latitude about how Parliament approaches the matter.

Photo of Lord Stoddart of Swindon Lord Stoddart of Swindon Independent Labour

I hope that the Minister does not reject the amendment out of hand. It is important that Parliament is consulted about the matters of great import before us. I would be surprised if the Government did not accept a measure that, I am sure, most parliamentarians believe encapsulates what the matter is all about.

When I first went into politics, I was virtually given instruction on the importance of Parliament by the Labour Party people whom I met at local and national level. I was told that Parliament made the laws and that the executive should obey them. We now seem to be in a position where the executive make the laws and Parliament has to obey them. If it does not, it is insulted, criticised and told that it is putting the nation at risk, as, for example, Mr Blair told the Members of Parliament who last week voted against the 90-day measure in the Terrorism Bill. It is about time that Parliament asserted itself again and made the executive aware that they are there by permission of Parliament and that, if they lose the respect and support of Parliament, they will no longer be there. I hope that last week's incident will persuade this Executive to take far more notice of Parliament than they have done over the past months and years.

Photo of Lord Crickhowell Lord Crickhowell Conservative

The real point of the amendment is that it deals with function creep. In 1950, a parliamentary committee looked at the use of the existing identity card and discovered that the original three purposes—conscription, rationing and national security—had mushroomed into 39 different functions. We can safely assume that, whatever the Government's intentions at present, the scope of the Bill is likely to widen rather than to decrease. Indeed, it is clearly the intention to make identity cards compulsory at some stage.

A great many of the speeches in support of the Bill were made on the assumption that powers that, we were told tonight, do not exist at present will be added later. The speech made in the House at Second Reading by a former commissioner, which assumed that the police would be able to stop people and ask for their identity card rather than asking for their names and having the embarrassment of dealing with them, was clearly based on the assumption that at some stage people would be compelled to carry identity cards. Therefore, as such extensions are almost inevitable, it is essential that we should state at the very beginning that no extension of powers should be made without full parliamentary approval.

No doubt at various stages of the Bill we shall be told that the affirmative resolution procedure applies and that the Government will have to seek the approval of Parliament. However, we all know the limitations of the affirmative resolution procedure—its inability to amend provisions and to allow the full debate that will be needed on some of the major changes. It is important that the principle of parliamentary approval for such fundamental issues should be clearly written into the Bill right at the beginning. I find it hard to believe that a Government who believe in parliamentary democracy should have difficulty in accepting the principle that Parliament should be supreme in this matter, and that they would deny us the right to include such a measure in the Bill.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip 8:45, 15 November 2005

As ever, this short debate—relatively short in terms of the way in which we are progressing through the Bill—has been valuable, not least because it will enable me to deal with one or two issues that, I can see, are of some concern to noble Lords about our general approach to this legislation and the use of procedures in your Lordships House and in another place.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lyell, made the point that this part of the clause was at the heart of the identity card scheme. I cannot possibly disagree with that. It is a perfectly respectable point, and it helps us to focus on some of the important aspects of Clause 1. It establishes the national identity register and sets out the statutory purposes for which the register is to be established and maintained. In a sense, it takes on the issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell—the worrying tendency of function creep that can sometimes occur in our society—and circumscribes the way in which we see the legislation working.

I shall deal with some of the points as I work through. The noble Earl, Lord Erroll, asked about agencies and parliamentary accountability, which is a respectable point. Over the years in which the UK Passport Agency has been in existence, I have not noticed that there has been a particular lack of facility to hold that agency to account through parliamentary means. Indeed, when a few years ago there were perceived to be some difficulties with the operation of the agency, Parliament played a constructive role in ensuring that Ministers were held to account and that some of the issues and concerns were dealt with very well. That is manifestly the case because, as we all now recognise, the UK Passport Agency is one of the best, and is a top-performing service-providing part of government, to its great credit. So I do not think that we can make the assumption that the agency will be beyond the bounds of parliamentary control. In fact, the reverse is the case. It is our intention that it will be accountable to Parliament through Ministers.

The noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, made a couple of points about our approach to ID cards and the issue of compulsion that merit a response. We made it clear in our manifesto that initially it would be a voluntary scheme, but that was initially. The issue of compulsion was clearly spelled out in our approach to the legislation that we intended to bring in prior to the last general election. The same super-affirmative process for compulsion was in the draft Bill and in the Bill debated in Parliament in the 2004–05 Session. So there can be no doubt about the Government's policy: it will be a compulsory scheme as long as the issues set out in the policy paper published in November 2003 are satisfied. Those issues dealt with assurances about technology, cost and the impact on people on low incomes and in other vulnerable groups. That deals with that issue.

The other matter that the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, raised was our attitude and approach to the Delegated Powers Committee and its recent report on the Bill. Again, that is a perfectly respectable point and one that I fully understand. Broadly speaking, the Government welcome the report of the Delegated Powers Committee. I have noted that the committee commented favourably on many of the delegated powers that are proposed in the legislation, for example and in particular, in relation to Clause 6, the super-affirmative procedure. The committee concluded that the power in Clause 6 was the most appropriate method of commencing a compulsory scheme. That is a fairly clear-cut endorsement of our approach.

The committee recommended a number of changes. We are looking at those recommendations. We intend to return with some government amendments in response to them. I cannot say—I think that noble Lords would think that I was rather foolish if I did—that we will come back with responses that are exactly in line with each and every recommendation, but we understand the convention that generally surrounds recommendations of the Delegated Powers Committee. Of course we welcome its report and will respond positively to its concerns and, thereafter, our response to those concerns.

Amendment No 5 would add an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy to the establishment of the register. I suggest to noble Lords that the expertise that we already have at our disposal and the specific terms of the Bill will be sufficient to ensure that a register fit for the purposes outlined in the Bill is developed. Requiring parliamentary scrutiny of the form that the register would take would be unnecessary.

As we made clear in one of our earlier responses, an independent assurance panel will cover project management, finance, procurement and the other aspects of the programme not covered by the biometric assurance group. All the security features designed to protect the national identity register and supporting communications infrastructure are being developed carefully and in conjunction with GCHQ's Communications Electronics Security Group, that is the CESG, which is the UK Government's national technical authority for information assurance. There is great confidence in the body.

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Spokesperson in the Lords (Id Cards & Charities Bill), Home Affairs

The bodies that the Minister has just enumerated—advisory groups and so on, to which the noble Baroness referred earlier and which are chaired by some notable people—are all off the parliamentary radar. Given the reply that the noble Baroness gave to Amendment No. 1, which was basically to say that she did not think that it was necessary, the Minister must accept that there is unease on this side of the Committee that there is no special parliamentary supervision and control of the manner in which the register will be conducted.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

There is parliamentary control in the sense that such matters can and will from time to time be brought before not just this House but another place, through the process of considering orders and resolutions. That is a very important measure for Parliament to have as a tool to hold the executive to account for the way that the scheme rolls out. The expertise in the Government's national technical authority for information assurance and in the Office of Government Commerce's gateway review process during procurement and the necessity that we develop a register that delivers the scheme that the Bill envisages mean that further parliamentary scrutiny of the development of the register is neither necessary nor appropriate.

For those reasons—because we do not want to over-bureaucratise and because we believe that, certainly on our reading of the Delegated Powers Committee's report, we have things about right in terms of the level of further scrutiny—I suggest to the noble Baroness that, well meaning though her amendment is, it is unnecessary. I invite her to withdraw it.

Photo of Baroness Seccombe Baroness Seccombe Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, (Assisted By Shadow Law Officers), Spokespersons In the Lords, (Assist the Home Affairs Team)

We hear what the Minister said about Clause 6, but he has not dealt with the totality of the report. No doubt we will return to that later. If the idea of compulsion was agreed by the Government in 2003, I can only wonder why it was not included in the Labour general election manifesto. So that was a disappointing reply, but we shall return to the role of statutory instruments in legislation as we proceed through the Bill. However, at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 not moved.]

Photo of The Earl of Northesk The Earl of Northesk Conservative

moved Amendment No. 8:

Page 1, line 9, leave out "convenient"

Photo of The Earl of Northesk The Earl of Northesk Conservative

I certainly do not underestimate the earnestness of the Government's desire to ensure that the scheme should be convenient. Public trust and acceptance of the scheme, and hence its convenience, is critical if it is to operate successfully. Against that background, I propose to analyse the simple question: convenient to whom? Contrary to the insistence of Home Office Ministers, for significant numbers of people, the identity cards register—I shall not weary of making the point that the register, not ID cards, is the main thrust of the Bill—is a serious matter of principle. In that regard, to state the obvious, such individuals do not regard the proposals before us as "convenient".

As to the practicality of the scheme, on the basis of the evidence to date—here I fear that Members of the Committee opposite, not least the noble Lord, Lord Maxton, will part company with my thesis— many sections of society will experience considerable difficulties when they attempt to register and/or attempt to verify their biometric details. As we all know, the trials conducted so far have revealed particular problems for some ethnic minorities and those with disabilities. More widely, if a little curiously, the introduction of biometric passports in Germany has revealed that there are particular problems in capturing the facial data of anyone who smiles.

As to verification, the United States General Accounting Office report of 2002 observes—I apologise for the technospeak—that the false non-match rate for fingerprinting, that is to say, the failure of an individual's biometric on subsequent rereading to match the properly enrolled and registered version, can be up to 36 per cent. It is accepted that the failure of facial recognition can be even higher than that.

Although it is possible that, as technology develops, some of those difficulties could be resolved, considerable uncertainty attaches to the overall viability of biometric identifiers as a foolproof method of establishing identity. Quite apart from that, all the biometric identifiers that the Government have suggested as likely to be used for the scheme have already been successfully spoofed or forged by researchers. Clearly, used in the context of a whole nation sample and a one-to-many system, biometrics are far from being infallible—a situation that is likely to pertain for some considerable time.

Moreover, as I understand it—perhaps the Minister could assist the Committee here by fleshing out the Government's plans a little further—it is envisaged that there will be about 70 enrolment centres throughout the UK at which people will be able to register their biometric details. The requirement for individuals to travel long distances—the more so if they are wholly reliant on public transport—does not immediately conjure up a vision of a process that is "convenient". Indeed, thinking about long distances, and to reiterate a concern raised earlier by my noble friend Lord Crickhowell, what will be the position for more than 13 million—I thank my noble friend Lord Selsdon for providing the figure—UK citizens either temporarily or ordinarily resident abroad? Here, I declare a mild interest in that I am an occasional resident in the United States.

As I understand the Government's explanation of the scheme to date, it is intended that, as and when passports are designated, anyone applying for a new or replacement passport will be required to register their biometric details and be issued with the ID card element of the passport. Does that mean that any individual living abroad will have to travel to the UK to obtain the combined passport/ID card, even if they are not required to have the latter because they do not exceed the three-month residence test?

What would be the position of a UK national holidaying abroad whose passport/ID card is lost or stolen? Under the scheme as currently envisaged, such individuals could effectively be rendered stateless. They could not obtain a replacement document from the in-country embassy or consular office because, so far as I am aware, there is no intention to equip them with the necessary machinery for biometric data capture. Or is it the Government's intention that our embassies and consular offices should have such facilities, presumably at not inconsiderable cost? Again, in those circumstances, it is difficult to imagine that those scenarios could be given the tag "convenient".

Moreover, the requirement to pay for the ID card is also an inconvenience, both in terms of perception and fact. Whatever the putative public support for ID cards is, polling evidence most assuredly shows that it dips remarkably once the cost element is factored in. To the extent that the scheme is inconvenient to the general populace, it is in turn inconvenient to the Government themselves. A central tenet of the Government's case is that the ID register and cards will provide a certain means for the individual to establish his or her identity. That lies at the very heart of the scheme and is the single factor, in truth, on which its success or failure primarily depends. Yet, as I have already demonstrated, its biometrics, on current evidence, are incapable of delivering that—certainly not to anything like an appropriate threshold of accuracy. Given that, the worth of the scheme to both government and law enforcement is highly marginal.

If the scheme does not offer convenience either to the population or to the Government and their agencies, who will derive real benefit from it? Jerry Fishenden, the national security officer of Microsoft UK, and others have made the entirely rational point that the very existence of the proposed centralised database could well give rise to,

"hi-tech ways of perpetrating massive identity fraud on a scale beyond anything we have seen before".

That is the so-called honeypot effect. Paradoxically, therefore, the scheme as drafted offers greatest convenience to those against whom the measure is purportedly intended to act: terrorists, agents of organised crime and so on.

In effect, the word "convenient" in its context in the Bill is highly subjective. I freely admit that I am no parliamentary draftsman but my experience in your Lordships' House has enabled me to discern that one of the principal aims of good drafting is precision. Yet the subjectivity of the word renders it imprecise, perhaps even close to inaccurate and misleading. I repeat that I in no way question the intention that the scheme should be convenient for its users, be they the Government and their agencies or the public; indeed, provision in the Bill to make that a requirement of the scheme may well be worth pursuing. But that is not what the use of the word in this context achieves. Rather, almost as an element of the dark arts of spin, it presumes and asserts that the scheme will be convenient come what may. I feel very strongly that that is wholly inappropriate for legislative drafting. In effect, it prejudges the Bill. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Crickhowell Lord Crickhowell Conservative 9:00, 15 November 2005

In a sense, "convenient" is a marketing word by government, but we can take advantage of it. If the Government say that they intend the legislation to be convenient for individuals, to enable them to prove registrable facts, it enables us to pursue with some vigour other issues at later stages.

We have to look at the method of registration and whether there will be an adequate number of points at which to register. Currently, the Bill states that you must register where the Government dictate and at the time that they decide. That hardly sounds to me to be a convenient method. We will want to see that clause closely looked at.

In surveys such as that conducted by the noble Lord, Lord Gould, who is no longer in his place, I wonder whether he tells people that when their residence changes they will have to advise the authorities and that if they do not get that right, they will suffer penalties.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

I did not want to interrupt the noble Lord on that point, but we are not referring exclusively to the surveys conducted by the noble Lord, Lord Gould. I commend to the noble Lord the Home Office identity cards research document, which bears close reading. It is an authentic document which is based on the latest version of the Bill, not the Bill that was in play before the election. I recommend that the noble Lord give it a good read.

Photo of Lord Crickhowell Lord Crickhowell Conservative

I still wonder whether the people who vote are entirely aware of the obligations that will be placed on them and the fines that they will suffer if they do not fulfil them properly. I believe that 60 per cent of the population of London move their home every year. Under the Bill, we apparently have to register not only several residences—residences are not yet defined—in this country and possibly abroad, but we will also have to go back in time over decades and state where our residences were and the dates when we lived in them. I shall explore that subject later.

Photo of Lord Maxton Lord Maxton Labour

I remember making a very similar argument to that which the noble Lord is making today about changing addresses, having to follow people and so on, when I opposed the poll tax Bill introduced by the government of whom he was a member.

Photo of Lord Crickhowell Lord Crickhowell Conservative

I was not aware that the Government were advertising this legislation on the lines that it was their poll tax Bill. As a member of the government when the poll tax Bill was first discussed—although I had left the government and Parliament by the time it was introduced—I would say to the noble Lord that it is a bad precedent. If I were the Government, I would not be following it. But I am grateful for the noble Lord's suggestion that we have here, in the form in which the legislation is now drafted, a second poll tax Bill. Thus warned, I shall pursue the case with even more vigour than I had intended. The fact is that under the Bill as drafted those are the requirements. If the Government are claiming that this is a convenient method to deal with the matter, these are proper matters for us to pursue with vigour.

I wonder whether the great British public are aware of what will happen if their card is lost or stolen. Those of us who have had the misfortune to lose or to have had stolen our credit cards will know that it is a very unpleasant experience. But we are usually able to telephone a single number of an insurance organisation which does all the necessary telephoning. With any luck, a new card is soon posted—very often, I regret to say, by an organisation that will deliver it only if you are there to receive it and will not come to your house at any time when you are likely to be there. But that will not be the situation with this card. You will have to go to re-register the material in it, which will be a nuisance. While you do not have a new card, it seems that you are likely to be in a pretty uncomfortable position if asked to identify yourself while the card is being replaced. If this is to be a convenient scheme, then rather than the poll tax scheme which the noble Lord, Lord Maxton, has told us it will be, this Bill will have to be tightened up a great deal in Committee. I look with renewed enthusiasm to tackling the amendments that we will deal with later.

Photo of The Earl of Erroll The Earl of Erroll Crossbench

I realise that certain points I wanted to make in relation to Amendment No. 7 can be made equally conveniently under Amendment No. 8. The notion of the convenience of having a national identity card was triggered by the taxi driver story, concerning all the cards that the taxi driver has to carry about. The list was quite normal, but not one of the cards mentioned could be replaced with a national identity card. It has a completely different purpose and would not fulfil any one of the functions of the other cards.

For instance, you have to carry a card stating what vehicles you are authorised to drive; in the case of the taxi driver, his taxi. He may also have carried a driving licence. Indeed, it is interesting and instructive to examine the ordinary driving licence. My licence shows my name, my date of birth—it can be used as a proof of age—and two biometrics in the form of a photograph of my face and my signature. Both of those are stored centrally so that if the licence were forged, it could be checked against the central database to confirm what I look like. It has my address on it and gives the police or any other official who wants to see it information about what vehicles I am allowed to drive. The driving licence actually fulfils a few more functions than the proposed national identity card.

Noble Lords will be aware, I am sure, that if you do not register a change of address with the DVLA, you will be fined £1,000, just as is being proposed under the new national ID card scheme. At present the failure to register a change of address with the DVLA is a criminal sanction, but apparently those provisions are so ineffective that a driving licence cannot be accepted as a means of proof of address. Why, then, will the proof of address be any more effective on the national identity register? The penalties are similar, but if anything the penalty for not registering a change of address for ID card purposes is lighter because it is a civil penalty. Only your credit rating will be affected if you do not pay the fine, but failure to pay the fine for failing to register a change of address with the DVLA can result in you being locked up. Given that, the driving licence would appear to be a stronger means of authentication.

So it comes down to the convenience of how the cards are to be a convenient means of proving certain registrable facts about oneself. I am afraid that I shall return briefly to the requirements for opening a bank account. I have just pointed out that the address on my driving licence must be correct. If it is not, I face a criminal conviction and a £1,000 fine. Therefore why is a driving licence not accepted by the banks? Rules have been set by a European international money laundering committee and interpreted by the FSA. Failure to follow those rules resulted in various banks being fined. In turn those institutions tightened the rules even harder. That is the reason why you now have to produce a utility bill. The national identity card will not change that unless we go back to the international money laundering committee and the FSA, persuade them to change their rules and make them promise not to bring prosecutions against the banks if they no longer ask to see utility bills. I am afraid that the national identity card will not achieve that. So convenience has nothing to do with this card.

I am rather glad to see the word "convenient" in the Bill because it suggests that we shall have a raft of stuff that will unwind some of the stupid regulations we have at the moment and which make life so inconvenient. That is one of the rules I look forward to seeing unwound as a result of this Bill being enacted. For that reason, I would rather like to keep the word "convenient".

I turn now to the question of work status. Another purpose of the card is supposed to be that it will provide proof that you are allowed to work. But Schedule 1 shows that only your residential status is kept on the national identity register, not your work status. This means that the Immigration and Nationality Directorate database must be accessed to find out whether someone is allowed to work in this country. Perhaps the register will be used as a front end to access the IND database, but it is easier simply to use a government gateway directly to it. That solves the problem of whether a body has permission to access such information. Employers will probably end up using the government gateway with which they will already be registered. That is their authorisation to access information held on the IND database. It is not in any way a national identity register function.

I do not want to make a Second Reading speech, but another card you will carry around will be your local authority entitlement card. That provides you with your travel concessions, your access to the gym and may act as your library card. The national identity card will not check out a library book, does not know whether you have a right to use a certain library, does not know how many books you have out on loan or what the fines are on the books you have not yet returned. All that stuff needs to be kept somewhere. The above is a perfect example to illustrate how the national ID card will not be a convenient method to do all that we think it will do.

I shall make a final point about convenience. I hope that it will be convenient for those with impairments of any sort, such as tunnel vision, being of reduced height, being a wheelchair user, being severely dyslexic or even being unable to read certain typographical fonts. As I said at Second Reading, an excellent protocol is being produced at the moment: the SNAPI project. I hope that that will be one of the "convenient" things that will be put on to ID cards so that terminals are properly tailored and thus made more convenient for the user who does not find such things easy.

Photo of The Earl of Onslow The Earl of Onslow Conservative

The one thing that has made me really blanch with horror is what my noble friend said about the failure of biometrics to be recognised. If there is a failure rate of 30 per cent when one's face is examined and so forth, that is extremely worrying. Do the Government take that into account? Are they aware of it? If the Government have different figures for failure rates will they tell us what they are?

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Spokesperson in the Lords (Id Cards & Charities Bill), Home Affairs 9:15, 15 November 2005

I am going to shock the noble Baroness Lady Henig, by opposing the amendment. I do so with deference because the noble Earl, Lord Northesk, yields to no person in this House in his technical understanding of the impenetrabilities of this whole subject. But I am bound to say, as a simple lawyer, that "convenient" cannot mean convenient for the state; it must mean convenient to the individuals referred to in the subsection. I might have backed the noble Earl had he suggested an alternative word, but as he has not I rather agree with a previous speaker that it is better to have "convenient" than nothing at all because convenience to the citizen is something to be approved of.

Photo of Baroness Carnegy of Lour Baroness Carnegy of Lour Conservative

My noble kinsman—I do not often have the chance to say that—who has been a kinsman since the 17th century, made an interesting case. I do not know whether he will divide the Committee on this amendment, but if he does not or if it fails to be agreed and the word stays in, it will be very interesting when we get to Schedule 1 to discuss whether people will find it convenient to have to include in their entry the numbers of 11 different government documents that relate to them and the date of expiry or period of validity of those documents. Those documents will be on the register and accessible to any government department that wants to look at them. I do not know whether people will find it very convenient either to put those in or have government departments chasing them because they all have the numbers, so it is a very interesting amendment.

Photo of Lord Lyell of Markyate Lord Lyell of Markyate Conservative

My noble friend has done a service to the Committee in focusing our thoughts on "convenient" because it cuts both ways. I am inclined to think that it is wise to leave the word "convenient" in, but we should look and read what has to be convenient. It has to be a "convenient" method for individuals to prove registrable facts about themselves. One of the most cumbersome registrable facts that later provisions of the Bill require are all of the addresses at which one has lived over a substantial period. Fortunately, a number of amendments have been tabled to limit that period and one hopes that they will be looked at favourably. Certainly, I will listen carefully to the arguments from the Government for going back many years.

It will be clear from my other speeches that I am particularly concerned with the section of society that is unlikely immediately to get an identity card, passport or driving licence. I am talking about the minority of 10 per cent or 20 per cent, some of whom will be frightened about asking for an identity card as soon as they begin to think about it. They may well think, as noble Lords have said in support of the Government, "I would like something to prove my identity. It gives me some status in society". However, when they discover that they will have to provide a lot of detail about their exact working status, that will be a source of anxiety for many people. The Government may say, "Ha, ha! That's a good thing". Perhaps that is part of the side wind of the Bill, but it will cause anxiety.

On the question of residence, going back to the 1970s when I lived in Lambeth, young black men were regularly required to leave home by their parents at about the age of 16 or 17 and went to live in empty dwellings, which were rife in Lambeth in those days in what were known as housing action areas—areas where housing was empty and the local authority took no action whatever. But that is where they went to live. However, among the people with whom they went to live, some were nice young men but some were undesirables. Under paragraph 7(d) of Schedule 1, there is a right to check up and record anything you find when checking out such information and it may be that you were living with someone who had a criminal record and you are a little worried about it.

All I am saying—and I will stop here—is that the word "convenient" has a great many important sub-aspects to it. I hope the Government will bear that closely in mind.

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Spokespersons In the Lords, (Assisted By Shadow Law Officers)

I am grateful to my noble friend for tabling the amendment, which I support. I feel that it would bring honesty into the drafting of the legislation if that word were excised. He has done us a service.

At the Second Reading of the Bill in another place the Home Secretary put forward the idea that libraries might find ID cards a convenient way of tracking down borrowers who nicked their books. I find that an extraordinary response to Glenda Jackson and her inquiry at the time as to how the card might be convenient. I did not find that too impressive a justification for such a monumental scheme. I think it is a pity that the Home Secretary was not here tonight to hear that theory debunked so comprehensively by the noble Earl, Lord Erroll. To me it proves that this method cannot be convenient to the individual.

I accept entirely what the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, said—I do not accept that he is simple; I certainly accept that he is a lawyer—that the drafting here should reflect the convenience to the individual rather than the convenience to the state. However, overall the drafting leads me to feel that the state intends it to be convenient to the Government to have this information rather than convenient to the individual. The way in which it has been introduced into this paragraph makes it sound more like a government press release than legislative drafting. That is disappointing.

It would be wrong of me to go much further in underlining the case put forward, in a bravura performance, by my noble friend Lord Crickhowell. In the words of the Law Lords I can only say, "I agree and have nothing to add".

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

It has been a very interesting debate, the balance of which has indicated the utility of the word "convenience". The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lyell of Markyate, and the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, all agree that the word is a good word in terms of scrutiny. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, for his assent in relation to the word "convenience". As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lyell, said, the word cuts both ways. This is not something which will be of convenience only to the Government; we will be looking at how convenient the processes will be for the individual, including the issues outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, in regard to how many centres we will have and where they will be. The word was not inserted lightly; it was quite deliberately put in. It is a good word because it emphasises the kind of value that we wish to add to these provisions, and convenience is a matter of some concern.

The scheme we are proposing is intended to become compulsory and will eventually result in everyone holding a biometric identity card that identifies them and them alone, and therefore the convenience of that process is quite important. It will thus become a useful method of providing identity and I cannot agree with the suggestion of the noble Earl, Lord Northesk, that it will not be convenient. I should say to the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, that I hear what he says in relation to the number of cards but I hope he will accept that the identity card will be the definitive way in which many people will be able to identify themselves to others. The data that we have produced and are contained in the most recent report of 2005 show the utility which individuals anticipate they will be able to benefit from.

This is not by any means to suggest that as a result of having the identity card, we would then abandon all other cards, not least because we have the DVLA card—the driving licence—and a number of other cards which give one specific entry into specific services. But that does not in any way detract from the utility and importance of the ID card for all the reasons I have alluded to already.

The fact that we have no national identity card scheme is in many ways a major inconvenience. Most of our European partners already have identity cards so, say, for a French or Italian national, the easiest and most convenient method of proving identity is to use that state's own national identity card. That can also be used as a travel document within the European Union in place of a passport—another great convenience.

If the noble Earl, Lord Northesk, is concerned about the convenience of obtaining the identity card rather than the convenience of using it, then to maintain the highest level of integrity of the identity card scheme, it will be essential to have enrolment in person. I think that most people would accept that that is necessary to ensure that the United Kingdom identity card is issued to the highest standard. For a document that is valid for 10 years, we do not regard that as a major inconvenience. Most other countries expect people to make a personal visit to apply for an identity card or passport. Most people manage quite well to visit a registry office to register a birth or death or to visit a local driving test centre. Visiting a local identity card enrolment centre will not be much different.

I hear what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lyell, says about the number of previous addresses. Of course we shall have to consider those details in order to ensure that we have sufficient data to make the identification real. I understand his question about how many there should be to avoid it being over-burdensome. That is an important point.

I say to the noble Earl, Lord Northesk, and other noble Lords that biometric data are not the only identifier. We hope to use biometric data as an additional tool for verification. On two occasions the noble Earl, Lord Northesk, referred to the research that suggested that only 7 per cent of people supported these cards once they were told the cost. However, I say with the utmost respect—and I am sure he knows this—that that figure related to data that are now quite old. The most recent research was that published last month; it showed support at 75 per cent when people were made aware of the £93 unit cost of a passport-ID card package. This was a sophisticated piece of market research, where people were made fully aware of the issues such as having to travel to an office to record biometrics.

The figure of 7 per cent that was published was based on research conducted in 2002–03, which showed support at 79 per cent. The 7 per cent figure represented the number of people who said they were willing to pay more than £20. But I hope that the noble Earl will accept that the research undertaken then was far less sophisticated than that which we have now. The whole debate has moved on a long way since then and there is a much better basis for our knowledge and understanding. Therefore, the figure the noble Earl referred to is not as reliable as that which we published last month. We took the trouble to undertake that research because we understood the import of what people were saying. It was important to understand what people wanted, the basis on which they would agree to it and whether cost was a major impediment. The Government needed to know where that benchmark should be.

In relation to biometric performance, one of the largest scientific studies today of fingerprints, with a sample size of 6 million, was conducted by the United States National Institute of Standards and Technology using data collected in operational circumstances, rather than laboratory conditions. It showed a performance consistent with the needs of a scheme on the scale of the ID cards scheme. Although it was one of the world's leading studies into the use of biometrics, the London School of Economics overlooked it in its report, which is curious because we know how assiduous that body usually is when looking at research that may be pertinent. I am surprised that the LSE does not appear to have alighted on that study. One reason why we treat the LSE study with caution is because it is just not as rigorous as one would normally come to expect.

The UK Passport Service biometric trial, which the noble Earl, Lord Northesk, mentioned, was not a trial of the technology. It was intended to learn more about the customer experience of recording biometrics, so we cannot draw definitive technical lessons from it about the performance of biometrics. We have a good operational base—

Photo of The Earl of Onslow The Earl of Onslow Conservative 9:30, 15 November 2005

I am, unsurprisingly, in a muddle here. I quite accept that electronically I have only just got up to learning my alphabet, so I am completely electronically illiterate. Is the Minister talking about the verification state and ability of biometrics? Do biometrics get the answer right in facial recognition and all those other points—because that seems to me extremely important?


Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

The figures given by the noble Earl, Lord Northesk, in relation to failure rates are not those that I recognise in relation to the biometrics that we propose to use. We have continued to work on the biometrics. In the first two-hour debate that we had on this subject, I outlined all the systems that we have in place to verify, perfect and change the way in which the system is applied. Members of the Committee may remember that the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, talked about brown eyes; that was an issue in the past—whether the facility could detect those conditions. As I understand it, that has been addressed and there is a new filter, and brown eyes are fine. I do not know, but we may have more difficulty with others.

Photo of The Earl of Northesk The Earl of Northesk Conservative

This is a fundamentally crucial problem. As the Minister appreciates, I have difficulties with data capture with biometric identifiers. I have even more problems down the line with the technology involved in verifying the biometric identifiers when they have been captured. There is a distinction between those two things. The figure that I gave the Committee related to verification; what the noble Baroness has just referred to, with regard to brown eyes and what have you, is all about the data capture. We really need to get our finger firmly on the pulse and know which one of those two we are talking about, with regard to explanation. I hope that the Minister can clarify that point.

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

I am just conscious of how much time we have already spent on this matter. I shall try to do as much as I can, and I shall certainly write to the noble Earl. The reason why I say that is because I know that he has raised the issue on two or three occasions—once on a Question, once at Second Reading and once now. It is clear that the noble Earl is totally fascinated by the issue, which I can absolutely understand; that fascination is not entirely shared by the whole Committee. But I am sure that if I gave him a sufficiently detailed answer, it could be shared by other Members of the Committee, who could at their leisure enjoy the excitement of reading it.

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Spokesperson in the Lords (Id Cards & Charities Bill), Home Affairs

I am sorry to ask the Minister to give way at 9.35 pm, but she was just talking about something that confuses 99 per cent of the Chamber, I would guess. It is pretty central to all this, because if the Government's claims about the certitude of the process using biometric data are well founded, that goes quite a way towards easing some of the concerns we all have about that.

I own up to not understanding biometric capture and verification, the 13 different types of biometric this and that, and so on. Would it be possible, even helpful, if the Minister's team were to put together a document that attempted to explain this in children's language? That would aid future debate. I may be on my own about this.

Photo of The Earl of Onslow The Earl of Onslow Conservative

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. This is important. As I understand it, biometric capture recognises your fingerprint. Biometric verification is when you put this into a machine and the central database does not recognise it. If this is the case and it does not work, and we spend the money—although the Government do not know how much they will spend—on something that does not work, and which is irritating and an offence against our liberties, it would be quite a silly thing to do.


Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

Neither the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, nor the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, are being in the least bit silly. This is an important issue. We are very clear that the system works. The noble Earl, Lord Northesk, also has concerns about it. It was for that reason that we had all this machinery in Committee Room 4 yesterday. Some of the experts dealing with this were available to Members of the House, who could go upstairs to the Room, have their biometric fingerprints taken, try out the iris scanner and see how it worked, and do the verification. I do not know whether it would be possible, but if noble Lords felt it would be helpful now that we have a better understanding of these issues, I would be more than happy to see if the House would facilitate a return of that demonstration so people had another opportunity to see it.

I would also be happy to put together a document in sufficiently clear form that could walk people through how this works.

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Spokesperson in the Lords (Id Cards & Charities Bill), Home Affairs

The second part should be the existing evidence of the fallibility or otherwise of the different aspects of the testing. The Minister has already referred to a lot of research, as has the noble Earl, Lord Northesk, and I think we need to have that on a piece of paper.

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

It is also important to understand the way in which this whole thing has been looked at. Noble Lords will know that we have 6 million records on our police fingerprint systems. We fingerprint asylum seekers to match their records against those held by other European countries. We are already using biometric-fingerprint visas in a number of countries, including Sri Lanka, Uganda and Ethiopia, in advance of this becoming a requirement in the EU regulations in 2008. We are collecting the information about what works and how it operates, and trying to make this smoother and more efficient.

We are also working with other countries that have experience of large-scale biometric systems. The FBI, for example, has 47 million records. The US-VISIT system at airports has 4 million records, expanding by 35,000 a day. We are working closely with the people who are doing this to try to find out exactly how it works and ensure we have the best possible system.

I say to the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, that in yesterday's demonstration you could have your details scanned, and then the system would look into the register and verify them. It was very quick; it took only a few seconds. I understand, though, that it is helpful when you actually see this working, because it all becomes much simpler. I will use my best endeavours to ensure that we have it available.

Biometrics are being used to tie more strongly a verified identity to an individual. When you come to register, the ordinary features you need to verify in order to obtain a passport will be done and the biometrics will be an additional safeguard. It is not a total cure on its own, but it is the most secure form of verification. I believe that "convenient" is a very convenient word. It can be used as a template or mirror against which many of the provisions will be viewed.

I hope that with that significant 45-minute debate, the noble Earl will feel able to withdraw his amendment. I will undertake to do that which I mentioned as soon as reasonably practicable.

Photo of The Earl of Northesk The Earl of Northesk Conservative

I am grateful to all Members of the Committee who have contributed to this—I was going to say "short"—long debate. I was encouraged by the earlier intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Maxton, indicating the equivalence of the scheme with the poll tax—

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

I assure the Committee that this scheme has no similarity to the poll tax, inasmuch as we think that it will work and it is good. Also, I remind your Lordships that one of the intriguing issues with the poll tax was that a number of people registered in the name of "Mr Mouse", whereas now Mr Mouse would have to have his biometrics taken before being placed in a position to take the provisions into account.

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Spokesperson in the Lords (Id Cards & Charities Bill), Home Affairs

I disagree with the noble Baroness. There is one glaring similarity with the poll tax. As a result of that tax, more than 1 million people went off the state radar because they did not want to pay. My fear is that this scheme, if made compulsory—that is the big if—will have exactly the same effect on the underclass that we already have and will entrench a divided society that I fear we have. That is one of the aspects which concerns me a lot.

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

I understand that concern. That is why we have made it clear, and tried to identify the fact, that passports and ID cards are likely to be issued together. The noble Lord knows that 85 per cent of people in this country currently have a passport.

We have also indicated that in respect of those groups who may fall into a vulnerable category and be in need of additional financial assistance, the Government have indicated that we will be looking at ways of ensuring that all people have proper access to the card and that they will not be unfairly or unreasonably disadvantaged. If the ID card is able to be delivered at £30, that is a reasonable fee for a 10-year document on which you can travel throughout the EU if you are a person of limited means. Of course, £93 is not outside the ken of the majority of people, but we are conscious of the issue and would want to ensure that no one was improperly excluded.

Photo of The Earl of Northesk The Earl of Northesk Conservative

In respect of equivalence with the poll tax, I would not have expected the Minister to say anything else. However, I also have considerable sympathy with the view of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. In digressing briefly, the thought has occurred to me that if the notional financial benefits to which the noble Baroness alluded in our earlier debates are accurate, I singularly fail to understand why, when they exceed the cost of the scheme, the Home Office is insisting on charging us for the cards. I leave that to one side for the moment.

In respect of the amendment, I do not necessarily disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, in the sense that some form of adjective to work to the advantage of the citizen may be appropriate. My difficulty is that the word "convenient" in this context is most assuredly the wrong adjective. If the noble Lord had been able to offer an alternative, I would be much more sanguine about the issue. Equally, I do not doubt that, in the Minister's words, "convenient" is a "good word", but again for me its context is inappropriate and subjective. While I can accept that ID cards may be convenient, in the context of the use of the word "convenient" the presumption is that the registrable facts, that is to say the register, will be convenient, and that is a view to which I simply cannot subscribe.

This late in our proceedings I do not propose to try the patience of the Committee any further. Bluntly, I do not see the sense of returning to this issue on Report. Nevertheless, I do feel very strongly about it, and therefore I wish to test the opinion of the House.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 8) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 15; Not-Contents, 43

Division number 1 Identity Cards Bill — statutory purpose

Aye: 13 Members of the House of Lords

No: 41 Members of the House of Lords

Aye: A-Z by last name


Absent: 672 Members of the House of Lords

Absent: A-Z by last name

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

In view of what has gone before, I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

House adjourned at five minutes before ten o'clock.