moved Amendment No. 1:
Page 1, line 3, at beginning insert "Subject to section "(Commencement: report on costs and benefits),"
My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 1, I will speak to the three other amendments in the group, which stand in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury.
Amendment No. 1 returns to the issue of the costs of the ID cards scheme. Our Committee stage was unusual, in that we failed to get any useful information, despite spending several hours on the matter. In fact, our only achievement was to establish with more precision what the Government would not tell us about costs.
I make no criticism of the Minister. It is clear that she has been operating to a very controlled brief. Her responses in the Chamber and to Written Questions have had a formulaic quality. But I do criticise the Government for imposing this highly restricted brief on the noble Baroness and preventing your Lordships' House gaining a deeper understanding of the costs of the ID scheme.
The Government have been praying in aid commercial confidentiality and have said that to release further information would prejudice their ability to get value for money from procurement. For example, the Minister said in Committee on
"no one would dream of bidding lower than our forecast costs".
We simply do not understand this. If the Government are procuring in competitive markets, the bidding behaviour that the noble Baroness describes is simply not credible. I know this, not least from my background as a bidder in the cutthroat market of professional services. We are clearly dealing with a competitive marketplace. The Minister herself said, also on
"secure value in a highly competitive environment".—[Hansard, 19/12/95; col. 1563.]
Exactly. It seems that the Government do not believe in the power of competitive markets.
We believe that it is unprecedented that a Bill with such major consequences for individuals in this country should proceed without Parliament being able to scrutinise the financial consequences. This is so whether the costs are borne by individuals through charging mechanisms or by general taxation. I have not heard the Government offer any precedents for this.
As I explained in Committee, we on these Benches are mindful that the Government have some degree of manifesto cover for the Bill. In the name of responsible opposition, we have sought a way for the Bill to proceed through your Lordships' House, while also addressing the very real lack of parliamentary scrutiny of costs. That is what the amendments seek to do.
Amendment No. 1 is a paving amendment making the powers in the Bill subject to a new clause after Clause 45, which is contained in Amendment No. 123. Subsection (1) of the new clause says:
"No provision of this Act, except sections 38, 39 and 45 . . . shall be brought into force until the Secretary of State has laid before Parliament a report in accordance with subsection (2), and that report has been approved by the House of Commons".
I should explain that the references to Clauses 38, 39 and 45 are to allow Clauses 38 and 39, which are not an intrinsic part of the ID scheme, to be implemented separately.
Subsection (2) goes on to describe the report as containing a cost estimate covering both capital and revenue costs and a statement of expected benefits. These subsections are the heart of the amendment. They give the other place an opportunity to return to the issue of costs and benefits before the Act is brought into effect.
Noble Lords will note that we have carefully confined the power to approve the report on costs and benefits to the other place. We want there to be no suggestion that your Lordships' House is straying beyond its constitutional boundaries.
Subsection (3) of the new clause is rather technical, but ensures that the information on cost makes plain not only annual or revenue costs but also the capital costs. We have received a single figure for annual running costs of £584 million, but we have received no information whatever about capital costs.
Subsection (4) requires the cost estimate to include both actual costs and an estimate going forward for 10 years. The reason is to capture the whole cost of the scheme, from its early days of design and start-up costs—again, about which we have received absolutely no information—through to initial implementation in, say, three years' time, and beyond, to the ongoing operation of the scheme and its transformation into a compulsory scheme. The Minister's figure of £584 million is only a small slice of the overall picture—it is the big picture that we are trying to see.
Subsection (5) simply asks for the cost estimates to be presented in the format of financial years and subsection (6) makes it clear that the cost estimate covers not only the Home Office but the whole of government.
Noble Lords who have not followed our debates in Committee may be surprised to find that we need to spell this out. The sad fact is that the Minister's brief has confined her to giving information about the Home Office's costs alone, and not even all of those, because the Minister has said that the £584 million does not even include the figures for its own immigration service.
We are clear that we need to see figures for the whole of government, because the benefits that the Government have outlined occur across the whole of government. If Parliament is to get a proper look at costs and benefits, we must make sure that it compares apples and oranges—that is, the costs must match the benefits.
Lastly, subsection (7) requires the cost estimate to be reviewed by the Comptroller and Auditor General. I am sure that that assurance will need no explanation.
We are not seeking today to find out any more information about costs. In early December, before completion of the Committee stage, my noble friend Lady Anelay of St Johns wrote to the Minister offering to place the Committee into a secret session, under Standing Order 15 of your Lordships' House. We could then have discussed the costs in detail without any commercial confidentiality complications. The Government declined. Now that we have reached Report, it is too late for detailed analysis, so I will not today weary the House with the detailed questions that we felt should have been answered.
Let me just put the costs in context. The Government say that the annual running costs are £584 million. That is for one year, starting in late 2008. The London School of Economics report, which came out last June, put the figures over a 10-year period in a range of £10.6 billion to £19.2 billion. If the Home Office's annual figure of £584 million is representative of costs over 10 years—which is a very big if—we get a total of £5.8 billion. The Government say that the fee for a passport will be £93 and that for an identity card £30. They imply that the fees are driven from the £584 million cost estimate.
If the LSE report is right, the fee for a passport could actually be between £170 and over £300, and an ID card fee could rise to over £100. The Government have refused to cap fees, so the implication is that if costs rise, so too will fees. There is plenty of research to show that the acceptability of the ID card scheme declines as its cost increases.
The Home Office has produced some analysis in an attempted rebuttal of the LSE's figures, but the lines of attack have been about a few specific assumptions. There has not been an open and detailed debate between the Home Office and the LSE team. I know that the LSE team regrets this.
Since last summer the LSE team has found some areas where it overestimated costs, but also some areas where it underestimated costs. In the latest report, released over the weekend, it stands by its original estimates in aggregate.
I am sure that the noble Lords will join me in being impressed that Sir Howard Davies, the director of the LSE, has been unswerving in his support of the research team, in the face of some immoderate reactions from the Government.
The ID scheme is surrounded by much secrecy. We know that the scheme will require large and complex IT systems.
My Lords, I am very happy to concede that it is theoretically possible for that to occur if the scheme were implemented in a way that was properly connected to the Inland Revenue, at a cost which was not disproportionate to the benefits that were obtained by the Inland Revenue. We have obtained no information whatever on any of that.
Before the noble Lord intervened, I was talking about the need for this ID card scheme to rest on large and complex IT systems. Many noble Lords referred in Committee to the Government's poor record in implementing major IT systems, but that is not part of our case on this amendment. However, freedom of information requests have produced no useful information on the gateway reviews or the risk registers that government projects are supposed to draw up. This is in marked contrast with projects in other parts of government. When we add this secrecy to the secrecy about costs, we see one of the most opaque and unsatisfactory set of proposals that Parliament has ever had to consider. For that reason, an additional process of scrutiny of costs and benefits in another place is an essential addition to this Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, my name is on this amendment with that of the noble Baroness. I shall make a few remarks on what, on any reckoning, is a highly important amendment—and indeed a highly unusual one, but then these are highly unusual circumstances, as the noble Baroness made clear.
When previously has Parliament been asked to legislate on an initiative of this scale, complexity and sensitivity without there being the fullest explanation and justification of the technicalities and cost? We are not, after all, ordering some new-generation aircraft carrier; we are bringing into being a system of surveillance of every citizen in the land over the age of 15, if the Government have their way, dealing not just with the identity of us all, but with a range of personal information, some of it highly sensitive, and that caught by the so-called audit trail.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, well put it, despite the novelty, scale and civil libertarian importance of the ID card scheme, we have received nothing more, as yet, beyond the estimate of the annual running costs of the Home Office alone, and then only in relation to the issue of passports and ID cards. That has been put—I like the notion of an estimate—at £584 million. I would not be as adamant about this—and, I am sure, many of your Lordships would not feel as keenly—were it not that what information we have been given has been extracted with as much difficulty as if we were pulling out the Prime Minister's teeth. Indeed, it was he—let us not forget it—who told the Labour Party conference in 1995, when Michael Howard, then Home Secretary, was introducing an ID scheme that was not dissimilar to this, the following:
"Instead of wasting hundreds of millions of pounds on compulsory ID cards as the Tory Right demands, let that money provide thousands more police officers on the beat in our local communities".
Hear, hear! Mr Blair was absolutely right, except that we are talking of wasting not a few hundred million pounds, but, more likely, billions of pounds.
I must confess that, in this game of blind man's bluff, the estimate of the all-in costs seems to have been honestly, conscientiously and indeed expertly endeavoured—if I can use that word—by the London School of Economics identity project. The noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, has repeated several times that the information that we need to do our job is commercially sensitive and hence closed to us, because we are in the middle of the tendering process for the ID card scheme. The LSE group, as noble Lords will know, finds that excuse wholly unconvincing. The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, talked of the reality of the tendering process. She, like the LSE, does not believe that explanation. But the overarching objection to the Government's refusal to give Parliament the full figures is constitutional. It is only because the Government have jumped the gun and apparently got as far as going out to tender that the issue arises at all. Frankly, that is their lookout. Apart from the presumptuousness of assuming that they will get their will in Parliament—and that says a lot—it would be the death knell for the role of Parliament in holding governments to account if they could so easily evade proper financial scrutiny. I have asked "greybeards" from around this place and outside for other instances of such bare-faced presumption. No one has been able to tell me of anything comparable.
As noble Lords will know, over the weekend the LSE group published a second report which reviews the conclusions of the first in the light of subsequent developments. The first report was issued last June. Sir Howard Davies, director of the LSE—and it should not be forgotten that until recently he was head of the Financial Services Authority, which knows a thing or two about financing—states in the introduction:
"As this second report shows, the Government have not been very forthcoming in providing details of their proposals. The LSE team stands by the cost estimates outlined in its first report, but changes to the policy made by the Home Office make it difficult now to produce a definitive assessment of the total cost".
That was the team's hope in producing a second report. Although the LSE project originally supported an ID scheme in principle, it expressed itself thus in the second report:
"In the light of the numerous inconsistencies and conflicts that have emerged, serious unanswered concerns that remain, project dynamics that are dysfunctional and potential outcomes that may be harmful to the public interest we can now no longer support even the principle of an identity scheme owned and operated by the Home Office. Its primary purposes remain unsubstantiated, its benefits remain unclear and its costs opaque".
Again, in case some noble Lords are unaware of the people who form that project, it includes over 12 professors from the London school, I believe.
Part of their mounting unease arises from the Cabinet Office publication last November, Transformational Government Enabled by Technology. I cannot resist giving those noble Lords who have not seen it a flavour of its approach. It states:
"Government will create an holistic approach to identity management, based on a suite of identity management solutions that enable the public and private sectors to manage risk and provide cost-effective services trusted by customers and stakeholders".
I cannot also resist noting the bland managementspeak and the reduction of citizens to "customers".
A report by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers this month, Loser—Britain's identity crisis, states:
"The design of the system is based on unreliable and inadequate technologies that could result in privacy and security problems".
As has been made clear, the fact is that most government departments have not yet bought into the scheme, which means that they have not yet conducted publishable research into costs and benefits. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office stated last month that it could do none of those things until,
"policy issues relating to the use of or access to ID cards overseas have been clarified".—[Hansard, Commons, 19/12/05; col. 2483W.]
That general riposte is, in effect, repeated by many other departments. Given that last October the Home Office stated that it foresaw 44,000 private sector users and 265 government departmental and agency users, the need for the amendment and the homework that it will produce could not be clearer.
The LSE and the Home Office, in so far as the Home Office has come out of its bunker, disagree about more than they agree. They disagree about the number of changes likely to be notified to the registrar over a 10-year period. Will the contingency costs be £250 million or £1.2 billion? They disagree about the life expectancy of an ID card. Will it be three years, five years or 10 years? They disagree about likely card replacement levels through damage or theft. They disagree about the cost of biometric readers. Will it be £250 or £3,500? They disagree about the cost and likely usable life of mobile registration centres and biometric registration devices. I could go on, but I shall not.
When the LSE tried to enter into discussions with PA Consulting, which had been engaged by the Home Office for this scheme, the LSE was rebuffed. When it set up a meeting with the Treasury, it was cancelled by the Home Office at the last minute. As the LSE report puts it, it has perceived,
"an emerging siege mentality inimical to the project".
Therefore, the LSE's second report declined to revise figures in the first report and concluded that it no longer felt that the Home Office was the right or fit department to oversee the ID cards scheme, which it considers should be transferred to the Treasury.
The only figures that give a convincing indication of what is involved are those estimated by the LSE last June, which, including the integration costs across government, come out at between £19 billion and £24 billion over 10 years, in comparison with the Home Office figure of £584 million a year. The order of difference is enormous. As my earlier quote from Mr Blair rightly implied, politics is about choices; and choices on how best to deal with security, crime, immigration, welfare fraud and so on can be made sensibly only if one knows roughly how much money one has to spend and what the alternatives are. Mr Blair mentioned having more community police, and many of us would say, "Hear, hear" to that; but all the other heads of supposed benefit are open to alternative ways of going about it.
Without this amendment, the citizen in public bars up and down this land of ours will tell us that we are buying a pig in a poke and putting the cart before the horse. This House should allow Parliament to do neither.
My Lords, I have generally indicated my great concern about the costs of this project, and those concerns remain. I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, as I would have preferred to speak about what he wrote about today in the Times, but we are obliged under our rules to talk about costs today. So I cannot refer to the great quote of Rousseau's to which he referred:
"Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains".
That is a slight exaggeration in relation to this Bill, as even the noble Lord might agree; but we are concerned with costs. I am very much concerned although, as I have said, in principle I do not oppose the idea of an identity card.
I regret one or two remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, and the noble Baroness, who seemed to be more concerned with party politics than they were about the detail of the cost problem, although the noble Lord certainly went into that problem. But to hear the noble Baroness refer to my noble friend the Minister, as I believe she did, as a control freak, or anyway to refer to somebody as a control freak—
My Lords, I do not think that anything that I said could possibly have led anyone to believe that I described the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, as a control freak. What I did say was that I thought she was working to a very restrictive brief. That is all that I said.
My Lords, of course—but the whole impression that I got from the noble Baroness's speech was that she was not listening to her new leader, who was concerned not to be as provocative as she was, and concentrate on costs. But I may be mistaken on that, too, and I apologise to the noble Baroness in advance if I am.
Let me return to the whole question of costs. The fact is that the amendment, which I do not particularly like, although I shall support it, has a lot of faults, because it talks not about facts but about estimates. We can dispute whether the LSE's assumptions and estimates are right or whether the Government's are right. I am bound to say that looking at estimates is generally not done well by the Comptroller and Auditor General. I speak from a modest four years as chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. My noble friend Lord Sheldon could do better—he served as chairman for three parliamentary terms. The plain fact is that the Comptroller and Auditor General prefers to look at facts and then compare them with estimates previously made by any government. As the House will know, the Public Accounts Committee and the C&AG do not generally concern themselves with party politics, only with facts. The amendment asks the Comptroller and Auditor General to give a report on estimates, but I think he would find that rather difficult.
We have now had a reply, in a letter from my noble friend Lady Scotland to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, dated
The Government seem to accept that there are problems with the estimates. The Minister's replies in the debates we have had here and in the letter I have quoted emphasise the fact that they are concerned about costs. If so, I would have thought they would have no serious problem in accepting this amendment, because it only asks for a government report on estimates. The amendment rightly does not seek to define "estimates" in too much detail. It would be extremely difficult to provide any definition. Any government report of the kind addressed by this amendment would be easy for the Government to accept. They would get this report about estimates, which would be no better than all the information we have had already, and which would then go back to the House of Commons for consideration. One of the reasons I support this amendment, as, I think, the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, said, is that it would give the other place a chance to rethink, which is what this House is all about. I believe that this House holds the Government more to account than the other place, but that is another matter. I am no longer in the other place. It might have been better then, but I am too modest to say so.
I do not intend to say too much about the detail of the amendment, because it would be wrong to do so in this debate. The letter my noble friend sent to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and copied to a number of us—perhaps it is in the Library; I do not know—refers to KPMG, which the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, will know very well. I gather she was a major, serious and senior part of that organisation. The letter says:
"reasonable for this stage".
Of course, at this stage it is impossible to do better than that. That is why it is important for the Government to have an opportunity to rethink, although, as I say, I am not happy with the idea of relying on the Comptroller and Auditor General. Not that I do not have the highest possible regard for the C&AG; I do. My experience of the Comptroller and Auditor General has always been that we have been very fortunate, as has the other place, to have such high quality people in charge. They have presented excellent reports to the Public Accounts Committee, which have usually been dealt with very well by that all-party committee. However, this is not the occasion for the C&AG; it is more an occasion for the other place to have an opportunity to rethink. That is why, given my concern about costs, I very strongly support the amendment.
My Lords, I note that the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, said that past IT failures were no part of her case. However, perhaps I may briefly tell the House that I still bear the scars of a failing Foreign Office IT communications project at the end of the 1980s when the noble Lord, Lord Sheldon, quite justifiably gave me an extremely uncomfortable time in trying to defend a project which turned out to be about twice as expensive as we had estimated and it did not work. So I shall vote for the amendment.
My Lords, in a moment I shall take up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, about the costs not being known. He clearly did not listen over the weekend to the leader of my party on the subject of identity cards. It was perfectly clear that he entirely agrees with the views of my noble friend who moved the amendment.
I take up the arguments advanced by the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, on the sixth day in Committee when we last debated the issue. First, I pointed out to her that it was not a universal practice of government departments to withhold estimates and that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor had given us an estimate of the cost of the Supreme Court, to which she said:
"The issues that arise from which building to buy for the Supreme Court are different from the issues we now have to deal with, for this reason: the provision of secure facilities and managed IT data centres is a highly competitive market".
Presumably the noble Baroness was arguing at that point that the construction industry was not a highly competitive market. If that is so, it really is the reverse of truth to say that there is no case for not giving the estimate. Clearly, if there is not a competitive market, it may be true that the market will bid something like the estimate given by the Government. However, she went on to say that it would be quite wrong to publish detailed costings now of the IT arrangements. She said:
"If, for example, I were to say how much of the £584 million annual running costs is expected to be spent on running the national identity register, or the estimated cost of printing plastic ID cards, companies specialising in this sort of work would tailor their bids, to the estimates we suggest, as I have just indicated. In plain terms, there would be no chance of finding a cheaper option as no one would dream of bidding lower than our forecast costs, even if that could be done".—[Hansard, 19/12/05; col. 1563.]
She was saying that this was a highly competitive market. I can understand that there may be officials in the Home Office with no commercial experience who would write that kind of argument. What I find surprising is that the noble Baroness, who is normally so very acute, could have brought herself to read it out. If she had been in court and it had been an argument advanced on the other side, I can imagine how she would have demolished it. The noble Baroness had been handling three major Bills over previous weeks. This was the sixth day. I suspect that she was tired and bored with the subject and it was easier to read out the answer.
But this is a highly competitive market. It is a highly important contract. It is the kind of contract that companies in the field will want to win. They are major companies. Many are international companies. They will work out as best they can the costs of the project—what they think they can do the project at—and add a suitable margin to cover risks and profit margins.
They will do something else as well—they will work on the assumption that the costs will escalate, because they know that the Government will change their requirements frequently, and that there will be changing security requirements over the years. In their contracts, they will have careful clauses to ensure that, if those things happen, they can produce additional charges. But their object will be to win the contract. They know that the Government will select the most competitive bid placed, assuming that the company has been accepted as a reputable company that can do the work. The idea that the companies will all bid the same—what the Government say is the estimate—is so fantastic that I simply find it incomprehensible that it could have been seriously advanced from the Benches opposite.
I turn to the second argument that has been repeatedly put, which is that the Government cannot give us the costs of the non-Home Office expenses, because the other departments have not really got round to working out whether they will need or use the thing yet. That is self-evidently nonsense as well. For example, we know that the Foreign Office, about which we have heard already, issues passports at its embassies and consular posts abroad. I have a passport issued by the Foreign Office at its embassy in Caracas, after an unfortunate loss on a beach somewhere in Venezuela. To issue a passport in those circumstances, the Foreign Office will need the apparatus that makes it possible for it to give the biometric information. I pointed that out repeatedly in Committee, and entirely failed to get an answer out of the Government.
Let us take a look at the noble Baroness's arguments about Home Office benefits. We had an intervention earlier from the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, asking about the benefits, and we had some benefits spelt out in detail by the noble Baroness on the first day in Committee. She said that the benefits accruing to what she called the Home Office area of responsibilities amounted to between, depending on whether you took the lower or the higher figure, £600 million or just over £1 billion. But, to get those benefits, the police would have to have the equipment, as would Her Majesty's Customs and Excise and the Department for Work and Pensions. You do not get the benefits unless they come into the scheme. If the Home Office claims that it will benefit in that way, it cannot say that the costs are only those that relate to passports and an identity card directly related to passports. I am perfectly prepared, in broad terms, to accept that the Government may not be wildly out over the costs of issuing passports and identity cards relating to passports, because they are already planning for it. No doubt they have some detailed information that is more reliable than in other cases. However, they cannot claim all the other benefits without knowing what the other departments are doing.
Incidentally, one other area has suddenly come into the equation. According to at least the press on the weekend before last, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, in his ministerial role, issued a consultation document that said that local government would be involved and would have to compare the entries on this register with those on the electoral register. Apparently—it is a horrifying thought—they will then act as a sort of policing body to ensure that the information is accurate. If it is not, substantial penalties can of course be imposed. I do not like the idea of the local authorities acting in that role at all, but that is a separate subject that we need to return to.
I finish with a slightly different point. A few days ago, the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, and I attended a meeting where we were briefed by many of the potential providers of the technology. Basically, they were there to answer questions on whether the technical problems could be overcome. I was struck by one overwhelming fact: they kept saying that, at present, they did not exactly know the Government's requirements; they did not know what the tender requirements would be. Indeed, in some cases they will not know until we have the orders and the detail later. I wrote down one comment: "We would welcome a much more in-depth engagement with industry". One thing that is quite certain is that if the industry does not yet know what the technical solutions are because they have not yet had the brief that enables them to give the technical answers, they certainly do not know what the costs are.
That is why I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Barnett. If the Government were being honest about this, they would say, "The real reason why we are not giving you any of that information is that we haven't the faintest idea what the costs of this great project will be". They may be enormous. My conclusion is that there are two certainties: whatever estimates are now made, they will grow and grow and will be exceeded; and the final total cost will be far in excess of anything that is presented to us by anyone at present. It seems absolutely extraordinary that the Government should ask Parliament to proceed with this vast scheme on that foundation. Therefore, I strongly support the amendment tabled by my noble friend and I hope that the House will vote for it tonight.
My Lords, I am slightly puzzled by this debate. When I read the amendments, I assumed that the debate would essentially be about costs. When one listens to the debate or reads the article by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, in today's Guardian, it is pretty clear that the debate is still about the principle and this is becoming very close to a Second Reading debate.
I do not wish to go into it again, but if this is about the principle, bear in mind that many democracies around the world, which enjoy the rule of law, have identity cards. It is not crippling to the population; they are popular; and the idea is fairly popular here. I understand that saying the system will be costly undermines public confidence in the argument in favour of identity cards. As a party politician, it would be wrong of me to dismiss that as being without relevance. However, it seems to me that if the issue is about costs, I am not sure that the amendments address that at all. To give the noble Baroness her due, she focused on quite an important part: the tendering process.
I have a great deal of respect for my noble friend Lord Barnett who has a very impressive record on this. He has said that this House is at its best when it holds the other House and the Government to account. However, I am not convinced that it does it best in this way. If the matter really is about expense, frankly I would not have heard all these arguments before, as I have. I have heard them in the House of Commons and in the wider public area. So what new things are being said here other than, as the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, straightforwardly said in his Guardian article today, "I am against it in principle"? That is what it is really about.
There is a case for looking in detail at the expense, not because other countries have done it at a perfectly reasonable price and not because this country did not have an ID card before—which of course it did have in the rather special circumstances of the Second World War—but because we are employing so much new technology. The key question is how well the technology will work. Expense alone does not tell one that, which is why such matters are often better dealt with in the more detailed analysis of a Select Committee or a special committee of that type. I often wonder whether we would not be better placed to advance our arguments on the issue of costs if we did it that way.
It is true to say that if the expense of an ID card comes in very high and if it stays high, a great deal of political damage will be done to the government who introduce it. You only need think of the analogy of putting up the cost of the television licence. Think of putting up the cost of an ID card. Think of the initial cost of the ID card or, as my noble friend the Minister indicates with the movement of his hands, a driving licence. There is a range of issues and arguments around this, but they are not being addressed today.
I say this cautiously, because I am a new Member of this House and do not like to jump to the conclusion that I have understood all the subtleties of this place when I obviously have not. I worry, however, that if we, as political parties—whether Labour, Tory or Liberal Democrat—simply recycle the arguments that the parties had in another place, we do not enhance our status. We ought to be about enhancing our status as well as examining the evidence.
My Lords, I indicated that if noble Lords are going to look at the technology and costs, they might want to do that in a much more detailed way in Committee, as well as questioning Ministers. The broad thrust of my remarks, however, was that most of the arguments put today, including by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, have been heard before. That is not a reason for not doing it again. I am not saying that it should never be done again. I am simply saying that it is probably not the most effective way of holding the other place to account.
We need to be much clearer. I think the noble Lord ought to come out and say "I am going to use every trick in the book to undermine the political credibility of this enterprise because I am against it in principle". I could understand that, and would have no problem with it. However, the noble Lord has put forward an amendment which—as my noble friend Lord Barnett said—is not very effective in doing what he, and certainly the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, said they wanted it to do.
My Lords, as a Cross-Bencher, maybe I can assist the noble Lord, Lord Soley. We have now reached a stage where amendments are pushed. The Government have not listened to the arguments about costs. Whatever the noble Lord thinks about it, it is House of Lords procedure that, at this point, you would push an amendment to its limit to find out what the opinion of the House is. The fact that is has been debated before does not mean that it is not right now to test the opinion of the House, which I am sure is going to happen.
It is not just political point scoring. In fact, that is why, at this stage, speeches should stick to the amendment and not wander off into other areas. By and large, most people have stuck to that. I am quickly going to do exactly that. There is nothing new in the arguments being put right now, but the problem is that the Government have not listened and come back with anything.
Every benefit has a cost. I think everyone knows that. In normal business and in running the country, one needs to do a cost benefit analysis. It is a complete waste of taxpayers' money if it costs you much more to do something than the benefit you get from it, if there are other, better, ways of doing it. For instance, I fully support a biometric passport which is about to be issued under the e-borders scheme. It will have international standard biometrics buried in it, will let you cross borders more easily and will get you through airports and other places more quickly. That is a good idea.
Something we should be worried about, however—everything everyone has said on this has been quite right—in addition to the things that the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, has said about his passport and other things, is that in order to deliver the benefits listed in Clause 1—for instance,
"for the purposes of the protection or detection of crime"— this system will have to interface with the police national computer. Alternatively, an index to the police national computer is needed; the national identity register is not. The costs and benefits for that need to be worked out. It may be cheaper to store everyone's fingerprints on the police national computer, with an index into it, because no criminal information is allowed to be stored on the national identity register. Again, that cost benefit analysis should be done.
Immigration controls are enforced with the IND computer. Biometric stuff is issued to new arrivals, and they are biometrically checked if they reapply when they come in. If the IND computer is to interface, for the purposes of the Bill, with the national identity register, then those costs and benefits should be weighed up and put before Parliament before we go into this expensive exercise.
If you want to enforce prohibitions on unauthorised working, that information is held on the WPUK computer, which used to be owned by the DHSS—the DWP—and is now owned by the Home Office. That is the work permits UK computer system. It may be cheaper to have an index straight into that. You need to do the cost benefit analysis.
I shall not bore the House with the address issue now because I shall bring it up when we get to it, but the system must interface to verify addresses with what would have been—had it not fallen by the wayside about two or three months ago—the national spatial and address infrastructure effort, to bring together the postal address database. Not everyone lives at postal addresses. Many things are used to identify OWPAs— objects without postal address. You get them off the Ordnance Survey or various other things, which I shall talk about later. That will have to be sorted out first, and there will be copyright problems.
It is technically possible. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, when he says that, and the people who have put it forward. But the amount of change management and the operation involved for the individual departments that are not Home Office-controlled to get the true benefits is enormous. Until that is sorted out we should not be going forward, blowing an awful lot of taxpayers' money on something that could be pie in the sky. Blue-skies thinking is fine for universities, but it is not the right thing to do with central government money.
I do not want to bore the House, but before sitting down I shall refer to schemes such as federated identity—it is becoming much more popular and is much more an establishment thought—which allows the citizen control of his identity, and still enables delivery of central government services for the purpose of securing efficient and effective provision of public services. That can be done with a federated ID scheme quite happily. But I am not sure that the Bill would enable that to be implemented should a cost benefit analysis show it as the best way forward. I am trying to work on later amendments in case, three years down the road, we decide to go that way instead of using the national identity register.
The cheapest is not always the best, as the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, said. We have to consider the whole life costs and the costs of support later on. We must be very careful about the temporary process.
There are little things to consider. I worked with smart cards 10 or 12 years ago. A letter from the Home Office states that,
"a ten year card life is possible".
It may be with new cards; I do not know.
When that letter compares Hong Kong and Spain, I realise that the Home Office has missed the point. The problem with cards in general is that in this country we get icy windscreens in winter. The thing nearest to hand for many is a plastic card. A credit card is useful because people can get goods and services with it. An ID card will not be very useful so, in preference in future, people will use their ID card to wipe their windscreens. Unfortunately chips pop out and delaminate.
My Lords, I well understand the anxiety of the noble Lord, Lord Soley, to restrict the debate as far as possible. He brought out his referee's whistle to blow it at other people. I hope that he will accept that there is widespread anxiety in the House about the lack of information. If the Government had given some accurate information about the likely costs, the debate might have ranged more narrowly. I thought that every word spoken by my noble friend, whom I congratulate, was perfectly justified, as was all that was said by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips.
I have a limited number of points. First, I was moved by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wright, and his obviously painful memory of having been chastised by the noble Lord, Lord Sheldon, in the past. I shall add nothing to that, save the rather vain hope—most hopes at my age are rather vain—of longing for the day when his opposite number at present in the Home Office will suffer an equally severe and painful flagellation, which will be attended by the same awful memories that he shared with us today.
There are widely different estimates. The noble Lord, Lord Barnett, is quite right to say that it is no good talking about estimates and throwing them at the Comptroller and Auditor General. We need costs. If we have no reliable figures we must make do with the bone we have.
The noble Baroness performs with skill, calm and grace. What a pity that her colleagues, who framed these policies, do nothing to deserve the performance that she puts up on the Front Bench. I do not wish to embarrass her with too many congratulations, but she is an example to her colleagues and I wish only that she had more success in persuading them to see sense. Alas, she does not.
I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Soley, will not be too vexed if I repeat this, but we are dealing with a very comprehensive system of surveillance. Many of us do not like it, and the idea that the Government should get a blank cheque from us to pay for it is odious. In passing, I also echo a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, about freedom of information. I hardly know what to say about it. So far as I understand it, in modern parlance freedom of information means that the Government shall have access to all the information that they require, but on the other hand, when it does not suit them and when it is administratively inconvenient or impossible to give the information, it is not a matter that is going to bother the present Administration at all.
I worry about the Bill. It is a thoroughly bad measure. The Government should have shown the necessary respect for the parliamentary institution, been aware that this information would be most earnestly required and that their "we can't do better than we have" attitude was not good enough. I shall have no qualms about supporting this amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Soley, refers to playing party politics, but it is part of the government party against the rest.
My Lords, it might be useful if we return to the substance of the amendments. I draw your Lordships' attention to Amendment No. 123, which is grouped with this amendment and will, I imagine, be consequential if Amendment No. 1 is passed.
Amendment No. 123 sets out the basis for what is known as a "cost estimate",
"a detailed estimate of the revenue and capital costs arising from this Act", and,
"a statement of the expected benefits of this Act".
We learn from subsection 4(b) in the amendment that the cost estimate shall include,
"the costs that are estimated to be incurred during a period of 10 years after the date to which the estimate is prepared or such longer future period as shall be determined by the Secretary of State".
From subsection 3(b) we learn that the cost estimate shall include,
"a statement of cash expenditures".
I do not know about your Lordships' cash position, but if I were asked to put an estimate 10 years out of what my cash position might be, I would have various serious doubts about it, as would any business in the land.
The amendment goes on to state:
"The cost estimate shall be analysed into each of the financial years ending 31st March covered by the cost estimate".
Therefore, the cash expenditure that the cost estimate will include will be analysed into each financial year for 10 years out. Furthermore,
"for the avoidance of doubt it is hereby declared that "Government departments or agencies"— which are part of this cost estimate—
We are entitled to look at legislation in detail in this House. We are also entitled to look at amendments in detail, and this particular amendment needs some redrafting. Although I am sympathetic in principle to the idea that the Government should be more honest and open with what the costs might be, this amendment could not possibly be accepted by the House.
My Lords, I share in the comments made by my noble friend Lord Peyton in congratulating the Minister on the steadfast way in which she has conducted matters. However, like my noble friend, I regret that I have a number of questions which, so far, are unanswered.
I am opposed to the whole concept of ID cards, since it is rather like Big Brother watching you. It is always good that a government keep track of their citizens, and every law-abiding person is happy to sign. I am worried about the crooks, the underground thieves and those people who do not pay tax, for how will identity cards help to bring them into the net? I am sure that every Member of this House will sign up to an identity card process, if the time comes. However, we on these Benches—and, it appears, other sections of the House—are extremely worried about what the costs might be.
We all know that the Government seem to favour a firm of accountants to the London School of Economics. I hold no brief for either, except to say that the London School of Economics has a somewhat similar nature to the top end of chartered accountants, such as PricewaterhouseCoopers or Peat Marwick, now KPMG, and so on. I heard only today that 12 professors were involved in putting these estimates together. I would not necessarily hold out that the estimates—and they are only estimates—will be any different coming from one organisation or another.
Can it possibly be fair, therefore, to be buying a product for a figure—in this case, for what we must call the nebulous figure of £584 million—if you are not going to be told what you will get from it, or how much it will really cost? Is it really morally correct that someone can sell you something for that amount of money if you are not entitled to the details? For example, if I were buying a business and were told that the cost was £584 million, I would say, "Fine—can I have details? Can I look at the balance sheet and the profit and loss account?". In this case, we are getting no such details.
My noble friend Lady Noakes referred to competitive issues, as indeed did others including the noble Lord, Lord Barnett. The more competition that there is, the better to get a cheaper price rather than a secretive, organised one arranged separately by government. I do not know how many companies the Government are in touch with about this—although the Minister would—but I am very much of the opinion that the more are involved in competing for what would be an extremely large contract, the better. That would mean we will get it for a cheaper price. I am no great mathematician but I have worked out that, by taking £584 million forward for the 10-year period that we are talking about and allowing for 2 per cent inflation per annum, after five years it would become £644 million and after 10 years £711 million. We all agree that these figures are nebulous and uncertain, but they show that building in even only a 2 per cent inflation figure escalates the cost dramatically.
What will be the capital cost? We really do not know. We have heard mention of from £10 billion to £19 billion, and I believe the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, mentioned a figure today of possibly £24 billion. These are colossal figures. They would contribute towards the budgets for education and the health service to a remarkable degree.
Let me go a little further and talk about what the identity card will cost if it is to be foisted on the public. Will it cost £30, £60, £90, £100, £200 or £300? Even a sum of £500 was mentioned in the press at the weekend. I do not think the public would go for that and the whole thing would be a disaster. The noble Lord, Lord Wright, mentioned that when you are introducing new technology, new equipment and so on, it always has tweaks and can fall down. I always believe that whatever costs are built in, they will end up higher. We are all entitled to know the answers to these questions. I emphasise what my noble friend Lady Noakes said in her opening remarks: we need more information.
What about the link between passports and ID cards? If the Government are going to lump the two together, will this result in a different figure and be quantified in a different way? The Government have said that ID cards are to help with security, but will they help to deal with people who are involved in shadow areas—for instance, those who do not pay their taxes, drug dealers, asylum seekers who are not on the register and so on? I think not. The costs of the scheme are so terribly uncertain that we on this side of the House cannot possibly approve it without much more information and much more definite figures.
My Lords, I regard this legislation as the most important I have had to vote on in all my 25 years in the Palace of Westminster because, while I support the Bill, I recognise that it changes the relationship between the state and the individual—in my view, in a very positive way. That is why—this brings me to a criticism of what has happened—I lobbied very aggressively inside the Government prior to the Bill being announced, when David Blunkett was Home Secretary, to make sure that it was not dealt with by a Select Committee in the House of Commons but by a Joint Committee of both Houses.
I believe that the arguments put forward by the noble Earl, Lord Erroll—who clearly has a very wide knowledge of these subjects—should have taken place inside that Joint Committee, drawing on the expertise of many other Members of this House who, within their particular areas on this Bill, have argued in detail. We should have had the opportunity in Joint Committee of pressing those details to conclusion. I believe that that would have avoided much of the debate which is now taking place in the House.
Secondly, the whole debate has gone topsy-turvy. The reality is that, in the event that the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher—who is in her place today—was still Prime Minister, a Conservative government would be introducing this Bill. Many of us treat this legislation as utterly inevitable. Therefore, behind the scenes there always was a consensus that we would move down this route. That brings me back once again to my view that we should have had in place a Joint Committee arrangement to allow the best minds in the land in this institution of Parliament to consider these matters.
In my view, it is still not too late, despite the amendments that are being moved this evening. There is still room for an ad hoc arrangement to be established as the legislation slowly makes its way through departments in the period of implementation. I appeal to my noble friend please not to rely uniquely on the skills of civil servants to deal with these matters. We are simply discarding the huge expertise that is available and the ability of Parliament to ask questions on the minutiae, which might well, during the period of implementation, affect what final decisions are taken.
Finally, I return to an issue that I raised on a previous occasion when we debated similar amendments to the Bill—the tax take. I believe that, as my noble friend would probably accept, a lot more work could have been done on the whole area of estimates. Clearly a lot more work could have been done on the area of benefits. There will be a vast increase in the tax take, as I keep saying. I just wish that those who pontificate on these matters on television and go on about costs would start referring to the increased benefit to the taxpayer arising from the Bill. We should not be fearful of the electorate in addressing the matter in what might appear to be a fairly aggressive way in relation to the tax debate. There is a gain to be made. I think that, in the event that we have a further opportunity to scrutinise these matters, that benefit should be clearly assessed—yes, with great difficulty, as we are measuring the black economy—and become part of the very important debate that will take place.
My Lords, this is the first time that I have taken part in debates on the Bill, although I have been following them closely, in particular the debate on
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Soley, that I have for some time been in favour of the principle of identity cards. However, that support has been dependent on two things. The first is the exact shape of the project and, in this case, its scale and complexity, which are unrivalled—he mentioned identity cards in other countries, but I say to him that this project has never been duplicated elsewhere. The other concern is costs. I speak not just as a former Chief Secretary in saying that I think it very important that we should understand the costs. If the costs strongly outweigh the benefits, a big question mark is raised in my mind over whether we should proceed.
My Lords, I am very pleased to hear that and I am with the noble Lord so far. He will know that I indicated that the issue was really the technology and the cost, which I think is what he is saying. If so, will he kindly explain to us all how on earth the amendment meets that problem?
My Lords, I was going to go on to do precisely that. If that is a way in which the noble Lord is happy to approach the matter, he should support the amendment, which says that, at a later stage—when the Bill has passed through the House and a lot of the details of the identity card are known—the measures will not be implemented until a proper analysis has been done by the House of Commons and possibly by the Select Committee on Procedure, to which he referred. I will also say something about what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, said about that, which seems to fit in with this amendment. What the noble Lord, Lord Soley, just said should cause him to think again and perhaps to support the amendment.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, that as another former Chief Secretary I understand very well his point about estimates. However, the point is that the Government have given an estimate that is so widely different from the other estimates in public that it is absolutely right for us to probe and test it. The problem is that we do not have any of the details; we just have a global figure from the Government, so we cannot test it properly unless we go through the process that Amendment No. 123 recommends.
Let me touch on one or two points that concern me about the Government's figure. I shall take the figure not of £584 million but of £187 million, because the Minister said in previous debates that a lot of the cost would be incurred anyway to introduce the new passports. We are talking about an estimate of £187 million to introduce a new project way beyond passports, and I frankly do not believe it. Perhaps the LSE estimate is too high, but the figure must be somewhere in-between.
Let me give some reasons why I need further details. The first concerns cost overruns. The noble Lord, Lord Wright, referred to an IT project in the Foreign Office. We all know the number of cost overruns that have been undertaken on major projects by governments of both political persuasions. The Scottish Parliament is an obvious example, but there are so many examples in IT and many other areas that there will undoubtedly be a cost overrun. What is the Government's estimate of what the cost overrun should be? I believe that there is a contingency fund of 20 per cent, although I had to dig that information out. Is that right? If it is only 20 per cent, I do not believe that that is an accurate figure for the cost overrun. We need a lot more detail on that score.
On the capital costs, we are told that included within the figure of £187 million there is depreciation and interest on capital. How can that be incorporated within £187 million? Perhaps it can be, but we want to see the details. How much of the capital cost will be undertaken under PFI? I have been a strong supporter of PFI in principle and in practice, but there comes a point, just as with a company—because this is effectively off-balance-sheet financing—that if there is too much off-balance-sheet financing, the whole project is threatened because there is not the cash flow to pay for it. I believe that that is beginning to happen with PFI too. I was interested to see today's report in the Times that the Government are getting very concerned about the number of PFI projects with hospitals because there will be a substantial overrun. I think that the Treasury has woken up to the risk of undertaking too many hospital projects under PFI too soon. Will we find that there is some PFI element in these estimates? Are they realistic, and is it not likely that that will be challenged?
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, mentioned benefits, and I very much agreed with him. In my analysis, it is important that at least the costs do not substantially outstrip the benefits. The problem is that we do not have any real information from the Government on what they think, quantified, the benefits will be. In response to the KPMG review, which recommended more work on benefits, the Home Office summary of work in progress said:
"A great deal of work has been undertaken with other departments to ensure the benefits for the scheme are quantified".
I do not know whether that includes the Inland Revenue, as it used to be called, but certainly I take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours. If a great deal of work is going on, why is Parliament not being told? Why is Parliament not being given these figures? If they cannot be completed yet, it makes sense to have them looked at in the terms of the amendment when we come to the stage when it would be operational.
The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, spoke of the costs across government and not just in the Home Office. That must be right as well. I find it difficult to believe that the Treasury is not concerned about the implications of an identity card for all sorts of departments and is not already asking the departments what the likely cost will be. Substantial costs will be at the expense of other projects that the department might otherwise have undertaken in social security, education, and so on. I see the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, nodding. The Treasury has been very remiss if it has not been doing that kind of work.
I find it alarming that all we are being given are the Home Office figures, without any indication of the others. I therefore very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, in that respect. If the Treasury has been doing the work, why can't Parliament be told as well?
The Government have relied quite heavily on the fact that the KPMG review has given a fairly good response to what the Home Office has so far undertaken. In fact, they have rather relied on the KPMG report; instead of us being able to examine the estimates, we have to take it on trust that KPMG has done the work. Many of us have been at the receiving end of accountancy reports on a number of projects. I commend the Home Office for embarking on the KPMG report; it was obviously important and necessary to do so, but it is limited.
We are all used to these reports. This one was completed in a month. Most of them are completed very quickly by accountants. They are reliant on the information given by the department that sponsored it, and as such they are a test of process.
The KPMG report makes clear that it was very limited in scope. It did not cover by any means all the cost estimates being considered. It certainly is not a ringing endorsement of the cost figures. We should be quite clear about that.
I have not yet been able to read the new LSE report, although I have seen the foreword by Sir Howard Davies, which makes it very clear where it still stands. In spite of all the criticisms, it holds its ground. The LSE report gives details, which has enabled the Government to question some of its assumptions. A number of us have seen the detailed government questioning of some of the assumptions of the LSE report.
The Government, however, are not giving any details of their own estimates, so preventing others from doing to them what they are now doing to the detailed LSE review. All we are asking is that, on the basis of the LSE review, which all of us have seen, we should be able to test the Government's much more limited estimate in the same way. That is what Amendment No. 123 does, and it is why I support it.
My Lords, it is absolutely right that we should be having this discussion this afternoon on the estimated costs of the scheme. I am sorry that the Bill has come to us without having been through the Commons and examined by them. After all, the House of Commons are the guardian of the taxpayers' pockets. I would have thought that they would send to us a Bill that had been properly costed, especially bearing in mind the various estimates made, ranging from about £3.1 billion to £27 billion. I would have thought that the House of Commons would want to know all about that before they submitted the Bill to this House for consideration.
I have expressed myself as opposed to the Bill in principle and on cost. I opposed it on principle, as did many or probably all of the present Government when they were in opposition. I just happen to believe as I did when I supported the Opposition in this House and for a time in another place.
It is essential that when we are dealing with taxpayers' money—because it is taxpayers' money, not government money—we should make sure that we use it properly and that we will achieve the objectives proposed. But in a Bill of this sort, which alters the arrangements and relationships between government and governed, it is important that we ensure that there is wide agreement between the political parties. It is quite clear that there is no such agreement.
If we are not careful, we may be throwing money away. Yesterday the Leader of the Opposition, who might one day be in government, said that he would scrap the ID scheme. The Liberal Democrats are against the scheme and would co-operate in scrapping it. We may spend billions of pounds in starting a scheme that has been agreed to by only one political party, which may not be in government for much longer than a few years. I object to the Government spending money, on the basis that that money is not being well spent for a long-term project.
I support this amendment because it at least has the merit of ensuring that the House of Commons, if they agree to it, require the Government to produce realistic estimates which can be supported. We know all about cost overruns, which have been referred to several times during this debate. The NHS computer programme has been mentioned in previous debates. It was estimated to cost £1 billion and it is now estimated to cost £30 billion. We are also made aware virtually every day of the costs of the Child Support Agency, which was supposed to garner £400 million per annum in benefit to the Treasury. It now costs the Treasury hundreds of millions of pounds every year to run. So we really must be careful. I hope that this amendment will be passed so that the House of Commons can properly do their duty and ensure that taxpayers' money is spent not wastefully, but productively.
My Lords, I support my noble friend's amendment. As the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, well knows, I have always been in favour of the concept of a national identity register, for the reasons that I set out at Second Reading. I am not in favour of cards. I regard them as a provocative, expensive complication, but I shall not go into that now.
The reason that I support the amendment so strongly is that the wholly spurious, commercial arguments which the Home Office has put forward for denying Parliament the necessary information underwrite its incompetence to administer this project. As the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, will know, we shall be debating later this week another, much smaller Home Office computer project, which is the attempt to put all the police's firearms records on to a central register. That was required by an Act of Parliament in 1997. That it still has not happened is what we will be looking at on Thursday afternoon. I remind the House that the late, lamented Lord Williams of Mostyn estimated in February 1999 the cost of that important but much smaller project to be £300,000 to £500,000. The noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, updated that estimate in November last year by saying that the Home Office has already spent £5.6 million and the project has not yet been completed. We simply cannot give to the Home Office a blank cheque.
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, I have deep reservations about this Bill on grounds of principle. Nevertheless, I have some sympathy with the view of the noble Lord, Lord Soley, that costs are dependent on the technology to be used. Accordingly, I shall follow up on the opening remarks of my noble friend Lady Noakes on the gateway review process.
I note that various organisations, notably the IT magazine Computer Weekly, have resorted to the Freedom of Information Act to elicit information about the status of a variety of IT procurement projects across government. So far as I am aware, the identity cards project is one of the few projects, if not the only one, where the relevant information has not been forthcoming. As your Lordships will be aware, the whole point of the gateway review process is to obviate the inherent risks in IT procurement by categorising various stages of any given project via the mechanism of a traffic light system. If a green signal is given, it implies that the project is in good order. If red is given, urgent remedial action is required. Needless to say, this is relevant to the ongoing viability of the project. Yet, not only do we not know whether ID cards have been given a red, green or amber light, we do not even know to which of the process's six stages it has been taken thus far.
It is impossible to make rational judgments on the viability, affordability and proportionality of the scheme without this information. Nevertheless, the justification for refusing to release the information is, as far as I am aware, rooted in issues of commercial confidentiality. Perhaps I am being unnecessarily obtuse, but I simply cannot conceive of how the release of appropriate information about which stage of the gateway process the ID card scheme has reached, and the status of each stage within the traffic light system, could impinge upon commercial confidentiality.
Therefore, I invite, indeed, urge, the Minister to provide some insight about that to enable us to scrutinise the Bill properly. Without the reassurance of that sort of information, and wider information about costs, it is little wonder that the concerns and anxieties of noble Lords, not least those of the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, are provoked.
My Lords, perhaps I may say something about costs and benefits. I declare an interest as president of the Association of Police Authorities. As is the case with many on these Benches, I strongly believe that the ID cards scheme will bring a whole range of benefits across a variety of services. I am aware that many noble Lords opposite do not believe that and are making clear their concerns, but it seems an extreme step to advocate a completely new constitutional approach, as in Amendment No. 123. I echo the concerns expressed by my noble friend on that amendment, because it contains a number of elements that would be extremely difficult to carry out in practice.
I am clear about the need for containing the costs of this scheme and preventing overruns. We are all concerned about that, but this scheme has already been scrutinised extensively—at this stage, probably as extensively as any other scheme has been. We have already heard that it has been stringently reviewed in the Office of Government Commerce gateway process and that review is continuing. Thus far the scheme has been given a green light in relation to estimates of cost and benefit, which have passed their rigorous inspection. We have heard that KPMG's independent review of the cost methodology and the cost assumptions in the outline business case produced a very favourable report. It especially praised the high quality of the outline business case. It is fair to make that point.
The Treasury is keeping tabs on the scheme and, of course, expenditure will be subject to the usual audit procedures by the National Audit Office. Risk assessments have been undertaken. I understand that an independent assurance panel has been established to offer a further layer of oversight with its private sector expertise in ensuring effective implementation. In the final analysis, estimates have to be approved by Parliament by being voted through the supply estimates process. Surely, that is a fairly comprehensive list of reviews and scrutiny to ensure that the project does not overrun significantly and continues to offer value for money. These are the stages that past schemes have gone through. I understand the concerns, but I do not believe that they should overthrow the process that we have been following for many years.
Other departments will opt into the technology on an incremental basis, and presumably absorb a lot of the costs some way down the line as part of system or IT upgrades. But I wanted to put into the equation the considerable benefits to be realised by other departments. The Department for Work and Pensions has already come up with estimates for significant savings by being able to combat fraud and identity crime much more effectively—and there are figures for that. There will be benefits for a whole range of departments and services in being able to check identities—and we know that one of the main benefits that the general public most want to see is more effective vetting to make sure people are who they say they are. That is a big benefit.
I would also like to comment on behalf of the police service, to which this scheme will be of considerable value. Police will be able to expose false identities much more quickly and establish early identification of suspects. Road traffic policing and checking suspects will be much more secure, as drivers will be much less likely to give false names—and I should tell the House that they do that at present in a surprisingly high number of cases. Simply ensuring that people are telling the truth when they give their names will save a lot of time.
My Lords, as it will not be compulsory to carry the card, I cannot see how it will be helpful in any of those circumstances. By the way, the DWP estimate of savings was £50 million only, which, set against £584 million costs, is not exactly very significant.
My Lords, I am giving my view that, if there is an identity card scheme, drivers will be much more careful about giving false names when stopped by the police. That is my view; noble Lords are entitled to challenge it, but I believe that it will be one of the benefits of the scheme. Processing criminals, especially in custody suites, will be much easier. Indeed, in my view policing will be much more effective and much time will be saved on routine business. That is important because it means that more time and officers will be available to focus on more serious crime, on level 2 crime and protective services. Surely, we all want to see that as a matter of course. So if I am right and that is one of the great benefits of the scheme, it will benefit not only policing but the man in the street and his security.
We need to look at costs and benefits in the round. If I did not believe that the benefits would outweigh the costs, I would not support this scheme—and I believe that noble Lords opposite are being extremely pessimistic and very narrow in their focus. The picture is much more positive than many noble Lords would have us believe.
My Lords, the noble Baroness has enthusiastically told us of some of the benefits, and I shall not argue about that. We are talking about whether or not the benefits outweigh the costs of the Bill. Parliament should know roughly what the cost will be before it accepts the scheme at all.
I do not know whether the noble Baroness was in local government, but when one is in local government, before one puts something out to tender, one decides whether the project is worth having. One asks for the broad costs, capital costs and revenue costs and one then decides whether it is worth doing. One certainly does not decide without knowing the total costs. In her extremely helpful letters to my noble friend about costs, the Minister answered a great many questions; but throughout she has said that because of commercial sensitivity it is not possible to tell Parliament broadly what the costs will be. She has said that to the London School of Economics and thus limited that body in what it can tell us.
All the amendment is doing is to say that before the Bill is implemented and the scheme begins, Parliament—and the Commons in particular, because it is the guardian of the budget—should know broadly what the cost is. Quite honestly, even to me, who comes from local government, it is rubbish to say that you cannot put something out to tender without first knowing broadly what the cost will be; of course you know that. If Parliament finds it impossible to discuss big sums in public for those reasons, perhaps there is an argument for a secret session—but I do not know about that because I do not know what the constitutional position would be.
The matter is quite simple. The amendment, whether or not its wording is correct, says that the House of Commons should know the total cost before it decides to put the scheme forward. I cannot see that there is an argument against that, whether or not one wants identity cards. So I hope that the whole House will support the amendment.
My Lords, I assure noble Lords that I have listened with great care and interest to all that has been said, and I hope that I shall be able to answer in a way that will give your Lordships a little more confidence. I take this opportunity to thank the noble Lords, Lord Peyton and Lord Steinberg, for giving me such unmerited and glorious praise; but we believe that on this occasion the Government have given me meat with which to work—it is not as empty as noble Lords fear. We should remind ourselves that this particular enterprise is going to be put into the hands of the Passport Office. Noble Lords should understand that it is because of the expertise and the level of acuity and care this office has demonstrated that we are minded so to do. The Passport Office has brought its enterprises in on time and on budget.
It is also right to remind ourselves of the context in which the changes for ID cards will be made. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, with regard to the comments made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister when he was in opposition, that he was absolutely right about the increase in numbers of police officers. We have succeeded in doing that. We have an all-time record of roughly 140,000 officers. Anything we do in this sphere does not in any way jeopardise our total commitment in that regard.
Bearing in mind what we are intending to do, we need to look at what is already in place. The changes to ID cards, as I have said, are predicated on changes that are already on course. In February the first biometric passport will be introduced, which will include facial recognition. In October the first interviews—the extended background checks—will commence. The network, in terms of where those interviews will take place, has already been identified. The big change will be in enrolment and the process interview, but in time that too has to be introduced for our biometric data. We currently have a complex database that contains all the information on passports, and as we move to include biometrics from fingerprints and iris identification, those two will have to be incorporated into the Passport Service.
We have called the central new database "the register", but noble Lords will be familiar with the fact that the Passport Service currently has a database. When we include the biometric data that will come from facial recognition and fingerprints, that information will have to be contained on that database. As a result of the demands made on the service, we have now piloted passport validation, a commercial service that will come on stream in 2006. It is demand-led because, even under the current legislation, there has been a demand for that from the business community.
All of those items are coming anyway, and the Passport Service will have to provide for them. So if we look at the differences between the service that will be provided now and that which we anticipate will be necessary to be provided in the long term, the differences are not great. I will list them. A database of basic personal information and biometrics exists, and that will continue. An identity document that stores information, including biometrics, is already provided. The ability for banks and other organisations to validate identity documents with consent exists now in pilot form. Disclosure to the police and other agencies of data held on the passport database happens already, and this would include the equivalent audit usage data.
So what is new? The production of cards as well as passports is new. We do not currently record changes of address, but we propose to do so in the future. The IT infrastructure will be slightly bigger; and the scheme will be enforced; that is, civil penalties, mainly post-compulsion. What about the extra benefits? There will be broader coverage—that will be non-passport-holders and foreign nationals all using the same type of card; a scheme commissioner to oversee the exercise of all the powers; statutory rules for how the scheme would be used by the public and private services, and for how information would be provided without consent to the police and intelligence services; financial benefits that come with universal coverage—that is, the checking of unidentified fingerprints at scenes of crime; and an ability to set fees for identity verification services to meet the broader scheme's costs.
When we consider what we now have, and what we propose, we say that around 70 per cent of the costs we have quoted would be incurred anyway in the move to biometric passports. This expenditure would not be subject to the regime set out in the amendment but would be governed by the usual rules applying to government expenditure. We need to be clear about that. This is not something outwith our ken; something that we cannot estimate. That is why have put into the public domain the figures that we already spend. The United Kingdom Passport Service for 2006–07 is estimated at £397 million, a figure to which the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, referred. That is already in the government expenditure plans. It will be incorporated in the estimated costs of issuing passports and ID cards of £584 million. That is published in a full, regulatory impact assessment. It is not a blank cheque. We know the basis upon which this has been cast.
If we then look at the future, it would be easy to say, "If we just put the Identity Cards Bill to one side these costs would not be expended". As I hope that I have just indicated, that is unlikely because if we consider the way in which biometric data are being used and will be used in the future—the Passport Service is having to provide ID verification more and more now because those demands are being made upon it—we can see that this development will be necessary. I must confess that I am surprised at the suggestion from Her Majesty's loyal Opposition that if they came into power they would wish to disregard the benefits which are clear and which my noble friends Lady Henig and Lord Campbell-Savours spoke about with such passion.
The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, may recall that when the Bill was in another place my right honourable friend the Home Secretary gave a commitment that it would be affordable under current plans. My noble friend Lord Soley is right, therefore, about having to be practical and making sure that this is affordable because the public will demand that it is affordable; and if it is not affordable it will not retain public support.
As a number of noble Lords have mentioned, the current plans have been scrutinised and reviewed by the accountants, KPMG, to set the charge for a stand-alone identity card at £30. We believe that those costs are robust costs. The noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, asks how much is allowed for contingency. The published estimates include an allowance for contingencies in accordance with Treasury guidance. In addition, an allowance has been made for the optimism bias with which the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, will be only too familiar, to offset any over-optimism in the costing assumptions. All those details have been reviewed by KPMG as well as the Treasury although it would be wrong to publish precise figures in advance of procurement. The noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, and my noble friend Lord Barnett, know how keenly the Treasury look at estimates made by departments and how jealously they guard public funds to make sure that the last possible benefit is squeezed out for the benefit of the citizens of our country. That scrutiny has continued. Perhaps I may reassure the noble Lord, Lord Wright, that we have learned a valuable lesson from his painful experience and from the approach of the noble Lord, Lord Sheldon, to ensure that we shall be able to meet these future costs in a way that is proper. We anticipate that scrutiny, and know that we will have to meet it.
The difficulties with which we are faced are not as great as has been suggested. We have been asked, "Why not provide a breakdown of the costs in response to the LSE?" We have provided potential suppliers with the sorts of information that it would be possible for us to provide, but of course we come back to confidentiality. I shall come back to some of the more specific issues in a moment.
I cannot add anything to what I have said, save to remind the House that we have published the expected costs of issuing identity cards and the current best estimates, and believe that they are sound. That cost includes all the existing costs of issuing passports through the current United Kingdom passport office. I fully accept that this is the cost of issuing the passports and identity cards and running and compiling the national identity register. It does not include future costs that may be incurred by other government departments that may choose to use identity cards as a way of improving their services to the public, any more than it includes the costs to private sector companies such as banks or building societies that decide in the future to use identity cards as a way of verifying people's identity. It would be somewhat odd if it did.
The decisions on any future investment—for example, in IT systems that might be required to make the best use of identity cards—will be made in due course, but not now, by the organisation concerned on the basis of a cost-benefit analysis. We confidently expect that organisations, be they public or private, will decide to make such investment if it is worth their while—if the saving to them in identity fraud or the reduction in administrative costs, whatever it might be, makes the decision sensible. I was pleased that there seemed to be some agreement between the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, and my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours that the benefits are likely to be much wider than those that we have explored. There will be many net benefits to a wide range of organisations and, as your Lordships will no doubt be aware, the Government have already published a high-level summary of likely future benefits in the benefits overview paper, a copy of which is available in the Library. In the regulatory impact assessment published alongside the Bill, the Government stated that, in our view, the benefits of the scheme justify the costs. That has been confirmed by the Office of Government Commerce gateway reviews.
It would be unprecedented for a piece of legislation such as this to be incapable of being implemented until a report on cost estimates was completed, as set out in Amendment No. 123. I agree with the criticism of the drafting made by my noble friends Lord Williams of Elvel, Lord Campbell-Savours and Lord Barnett, who was right in saying that the amendment was fundamentally flawed.
My Lords, I want to ask the noble Baroness for clarification of something that she said a moment ago—that the £584 million would include the costs of maintaining and updating the register, and presumably of dealing with inquiries. That is not what the Explanatory Notes say; they say that:
"£584 million will be the annual cost of issuing biometric passports and ID cards to UK nationals".
As for overall running costs, they are to be covered by a "combination of charges"—charges on the public—
"for applications, issue of cards, identity verification services", and so on. Does the £584 million cover the cost of maintaining and updating the register with every change of address and so on that we have already inquired about?
My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord has had an opportunity to look at our regulatory impact assessment and the basis of what is covered by the £584 million. I have made it absolutely clear what is incorporated in that money. Part of it is in relation to the register and putting that on board.
We have said that the current running costs are £397 million. The estimated change will involve the £584 million. I do not detract from anything that has been said or contained in that full regulatory impact assessment.
My Lords, the noble Baroness is quoting me in support of the fact that the amendment is not a satisfactory one and she is quite right. That is what I said. On the other hand, much of the information asked for in the amendment the Government can readily supply, but above all it will give the other place an opportunity to think again. If she is not willing to accept that, would she be willing to accept the recommendation that a Select Committee should look into costs? Without that, how will we know whether the benefits outweigh the costs?
My Lords, of course, we already have the benefit of the Public Accounts Committee; we have all the ways in which the Government are currently brought to account on costs. We do not see anything that entitles this piece of legislation to be taken outside that which would normally apply. Therefore, we believe that the currently available scrutiny will suffice in these circumstances.
We believe that many of the net benefits, as I have indicated, are included in the gateway review. Noble Lords have seen the basis of that. The identity cards programme is subject to that regular review under the Office of Government Commerce gateway review process. The review teams have full access to the business case for the identity cards programme. The noble Earl, Lord Northesk, asks me to say more about that. I can announce that, just last week, a further gateway review of the identity cards programme was completed and I am pleased to say that the review team concluded that the programme is in a fit state to proceed. The review team had full access to the business case, both for the setting up and for issuing identity cards and for anticipated uses of the scheme in both public and private sectors. Noble Lords will be familiar with the fact that the reason that the gateway process was adopted was to ensure that the Government better understood the risks involved and were better able to manage the process so that they did not fall into the error that used to happen when that scrutiny and that rigour was not in place. Therefore, we feel that this is a robust way of dealing with it.
My Lords, perhaps the noble Baroness can satisfy my curiosity. At which traffic light, during the various stages, has the ID card been subject to review, and which traffic light has it been given for each of its stages, and which current stage has it just passed?
My Lords, I think it has gone through its first two stages—that is, nought and one—and it has been given a clear bill of health to continue to the next stage. So the gateway review process is well on its way and is within the ambit of where it should be. The noble Earl will know that it is not usual for the gateway process details to be expanded upon or disclosed.
I believe that the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, complemented us on employing KPMG, or it might have been the noble Lord, Lord Peyton—I think he said, "At least we have done that". That process has been very important. KPMG carried out an independent review in November 2005 of the cost methodology and cost assumptions in the outline business case for the identity cards programme. That report recognised the high quality of the outline business case and confirmed that the majority of cost assumptions were based on appropriate benchmarks and analysis from the public sector and suppliers.
The 15-page extract from the KPMG report has been placed in the Library of the House and includes all the report's recommendations on which we are now taking action. So there is an easy answer to those who want more detail of our costings. The reason, as I have made clear before, is to protect the taxpayer and the public who will benefit from the identity cards scheme. We simply must not provide information that could undermine obtaining the best value for money when we go out to open tender for the procurement of the different elements of the identity cards scheme.
I know that the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, suggested that I was perhaps having what would colloquially be called "a bad hair day" when we last debated this, but I can assure him that that was not the case. I know that the noble Lord would not wish me to trespass on the normal procurement rules, which of course his suggestion may well do. The identity card programme is conducting a market-sounding exercise in co-operation with Intellect. It has attracted widespread interest and positive feedback. It would be against the EU regulations and OGC rules to issue requirements to industry in advance of a notice to be published in the Official Journal of the European Union. This, as we have made clear, cannot occur before Royal Assent is granted. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, is not asking the Government to break any official procurement procedures; that would be far from his mind. We have done everything that we are able.
The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, also mentioned the Foreign Office. I assure noble Lords that what I said still stands: it is not intended that the Foreign Office should issue ID cards. ID cards will not be issued abroad. They are for UK residents and UK residents only. Passports will continue to be issued abroad. The biometric passport is coming. All parties agree on that. This is a cost that will be incurred even if not one single ID card is issued. The Foreign Office will remain responsible for issuing those biometric passports abroad, in accordance with the ordinary rules.
I therefore hope that I have demonstrated to the noble Lord that he is quite wrong when he says that the Home Office does not have faintest idea of the cost, or that it does not hold water. We do, and I respectfully suggest that we have offered a good answer as to why our figures are robust.
There has been quite a lot of debate today about the LSE report. It is correct that the LSE's original assessment did not concur with our own. In its report the LSE—which claims to be without political bias—accuses the Government of secrecy. Throughout the development of the identity cards programme, Home Office officials have met a wide range of interested parties, including those representatives from the LSE. In addition to a very wide range of policy papers, research and other documents have been published. The policy on ID cards has been one of the most widely debated in recent years. We believe that it continues to command wide public support, despite the best efforts of critics to create what many see as a misleading, inaccurate and poorly researched approach.
PA Consulting Group has confirmed that no approach was made to it from the LSE authors' team. In any case, I suppose the LSE would know that such a meeting would put PA Consulting in breach of its client confidentiality. We have provided on our website an in-depth critique of the LSE's report. It is available, in detail, for those who wish to see the basis upon which we disagree with it.
Commercial confidentiality has been rather put to one side, as if it were not something of real import. I assure the House that it is. It is claimed that the commercial sensitivity of the detailed costs of the scheme holds no water and is not a matter of importance. This statement contradicts the behaviour of the market itself. The market-sounding process created by Intellect—the UK trade association for the high-tech industry—was established in recognition of the fact that both potential suppliers and the Government needed to keep elements of their planning, including costs, confidential. The high level of the engagement of suppliers in the identity cards programme market-sounding exercises run by Intellect appear to underline the industry's support for that concept. This statement also overlooks that the Government have already made it clear that the scheme will be self-financing. At today's prices, the unit cost for a joint passport and identity card is £93, with a fee for a stand-alone ID card of £30. We have already set the anticipated parameters that we would wish to see, in a way that is helpful and non-destructive.
I assure my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours that the Government have sought and included a great deal of independent expertise—all the experts to which my noble friend Lady Henig referred—and the independent assurance panel, the review project overall, independent experts in biometrics and many, many more. That is on top of the Government's scrutiny on commerce.
We have had a full business case and a lot of detailed information. The Bill is enabling legislation to allow a system of ID cards to be introduced. The Bill will not be the final word. The Government will need to be reassured at every stage that there is sound financial viability for the scheme. Of course, expenditure on the identity cards programme is subject to the normal audit procedures of departmental expenditure through the National Audit Office and the Home Office agency to be established to issue identity cards and to incorporate the existing UK Passport Service, which will publish a corporate and business plan as well as annual accounts.
On the detail of the amendments, I do not accept that there should be such an unprecedented review of the estimated costs of the identity card scheme covering a period of 10 years and the consequential costs falling to other departments before the Bill comes into force. I simply do not think that that is necessary. The level of scrutiny that has already been—and will continue to be—given to the project by my colleagues in Her Majesty's Treasury should not be forgotten. Such a major project inevitably benefits from a close level of Treasury scrutiny. So before any money can be spent, estimates have to be prepared and agreed with the Treasury. They must be approved by Parliament by being voted through the supply estimates process in the House of Commons either in the main or the supplementary estimates.
I end by reminding the House that this is not the first time that an identity card scheme has been considered. In 1996, the then Conservative government proposed the introduction of identity cards and responded to a report from the Home Office committee in the other place on whether there needed to be a detailed analysis of the net public expenditure effect of the proposed scheme. The answer given by the then government, published as part of Command Paper 3362 in August 1996, stated:
"We see no need to initiate any consultation on the expenditure involved as provision will be sought in estimates to be approved by Parliament".
That is exactly what we intend to do. Just as a previous government were prepared to rest on the established procedures for government expenditure, so should we. This matter can be dealt with in its proper place by the other place and not by this House. On that basis, I very much hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, will not press her Amendments Nos. 1, 121, 122 and 123, flawed as they clearly are.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her comprehensive reply to the debate, which has been going on for more than two hours. I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. A majority of noble Lords have supported the amendment and I am grateful for that. A number of noble Lords raised points and I hope that all noble Lords will forgive me if I do not reiterate and respond to the detailed points which were made as I am conscious of the time that we have already spent on this small group of amendments.
The amendment is about transparency and openness in government. I do not believe that the Government have demonstrated those qualities in connection with the Bill. We have challenged them to provide information on start-up costs, capital costs, transaction volumes and many other details, but answers came there none. The Minister's story about this simply requiring marginal add-ons to the UK Passport Service is very difficult to swallow without details. There is still a major disparity between the Home Office figures and those produced by the London School of Economics. I remind noble Lords that the LSE's figures at the top end are more than three times those produced by the Government.
My Lords, the noble Baroness and many other noble Lords have referred to this report as "of the London School of Economics". Will she make it clear that it is not a report of that institution, but is produced by researchers who work in it? That is a substantial difference.
My Lords, I am happy to respond to that point. The report is by a research team operating within the London School of Economics. The noble Lord can see from the report the large number of people from the London School of Economics who are working on it. That is quite normal for research projects. As I said in my opening remarks—when I do not believe the noble Lord was in his place—the director of the London School of Economics has given his support to previous reports and to the report that was issued at the weekend. He stands by its description as coming from the London School of Economics.
We also asked for costs from other departments but drew a blank. We asked for details in a number of Written Questions but the Answers that we received largely indicated that many government departments, including the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, were not fully signed up to involvement in this scheme. That raises the big issue of whether other departments will engage with the scheme or whether it will remain a stand-alone Home Office scheme. There are unanswered questions there. We asked for information about the 44,000 private sector organisations which according to the market-sounding document are supposed to be engaging with the system. We asked how that will work and who will pay for it and bear the costs. There was silence.
Parliament deserves better. We must give the other place an opportunity to approve the costs and the benefits and to decide about affordability. The amendment is about the costs and benefits of the scheme and about parliamentary scrutiny. I have made it clear that the scrutiny to which I am referring is the scrutiny of the other place. The amendment is not about the principle of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, talked about a Joint Committee and that may well have been a good way for the Bill to have proceeded at an earlier stage, but the Government declined the opportunity to do that. This issue is so important that I wish to seek the opinion of the House.
moved Amendment No. 4:
Page 1, line 13, leave out "or" and insert "recorded, stored and"
My Lords, I am happy to say that Amendment No. 4 can be moved with relative rapidity when compared with the previous debate on Amendment No. 1.
Everyone agrees that it is essential that the national identity register should be absolutely secure. Literally everyone—and without equivocation I include the Government Front Bench—has said that it is of the essence in this whole arrangement that the information and personal data in the register are absolutely secure and beyond being poached.
The amendment that I advance for the approval of the House—it is supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, and my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford—would put into the keystone clause, Clause 1, the fact that, as well as security and reliability for the ascertainment and verification of registrable facts, the same characteristics of security and reliability should apply to the recording and storage of the registrable facts. It really is as simple as that.
It is fair to point out that the Government are seeking on Report to amend Clause 24. Amendment No. 77 would place on the commissioner who oversees the register a duty to see the extent to which the confidentiality and integrity of information recorded in the register are observed in relation to the functions that are cast on the commissioner under Clause 24(2). The Government have brought forward that amendment from the Committee stage, when various amendments, including one of mine, sought to address that point. The Government's amendment would require that the four functions mentioned in Clause 24(2) should also have as a common theme running through them confidentiality and integrity of information.
I believe that Amendment No. 4 is uncontroversial. I also believe that it is important that the words in the amendment are contained in Clause 1, which sets the tone of the whole Bill and, indeed, defines the statutory purposes by reference to which every other function under the Bill is carried out and construed. At present, Clause 1(3) states that the,
"statutory purposes are to facilitate", and maintain,
"a record of registrable facts about individuals".
It also talks of,
"the provision of a secure and reliable method for registrable facts about such individuals to be ascertained or verified".
The facts are to be ascertained by the officials of the national identity register and will principally be verified by public authorities as defined in the Bill and, indeed, by the private sector users, of which the Home Office reckoned that there might be as many as 44,000, before the day is done, so to speak.
The words that I am seeking to have included would put the recording and storage of that precious and often sensitive information on the same footing as regards security and reliability of method as applies to the ascertainment and verification of that information. I have sought hard to find a reason why that would not be acceptable, but I have not been successful in that. I think that the amendment runs entirely with the tide of the Government's intentions, so I hope very much that they will accept it. I beg to move.
My Lords, I speak in support of Amendment No. 4, to which I have added my name. As the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, has explained, this amendment amends Clause 1(3)(b) to include the terms "recorded" and "stored". The statutory purpose under subsection (3) would thus be to facilitate, by the maintenance of a record of registrable facts about individuals in the UK, the securing of a reliable method for such facts to be ascertained, recorded, stored and verified.
I agree with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, that it should not be an option that, if the scheme is to work, an individual should not be ascertained or verified when in consideration of the public interest test. The Oxford English Dictionary explanations of "ascertained", which is "determined by investigation, fixed", and of "verified", which is,
"proved to be true by verification", are significantly divergent in their meanings. The removal of the word "or" and the addition of the word "and" as well as "recorded" and "stored" place a firmer emphasis on the workings of the national identity register. It is no good if the information ascertained is false and this is then not picked up as it has not been verified. Indeed, this debate picks up the point that I raised in the last group following remarks made by my noble and learned friend Lord Lyell of Markyate. Meanwhile, the inclusion of the words "recorded" and "stored" simply put into the legislation the process that the Minister has been describing throughout the debates to date on the Bill.
There is, as this House knows, widespread public concern over the facts to be gathered under the Bill. I am in full agreement with that concern, which is not confined to the accuracy of the information, vital though that is. The facts must, indeed, be accurate and up to date, but they also need to be secure from theft and misuse. We are all aware of the growing problem of identity theft and fraud and the importance of keeping personal information safe and private. That is doubly true of the information to be held under the Bill, requiring as it does so much information to be held in one place. As such, I support this simple, worthwhile amendment.
My Lords, I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, is seeking through his amendment to extend the reference to "secure and reliable" in Clause 1(3)(b) so as to refer to more than the method for which registrable facts about an individual can be ascertained or verified. I also understand the spirit in which he has moved the amendment. I dare say that we agree on the obvious point that the register must be both secure and reliable, but I am not convinced, having heard what he said, that this needs to be stated in the Bill in the way in which he suggests.
Additionally, I am not convinced that Amendment No. 4 really achieves this, as Clause 1(3)(b) is concerned just with identification where that is in the public interest, whereas we would expect the register to be secure and reliable in every instance. I think that the noble Lord might want in any event to think about the drafting of the amendment.
It goes pretty much without saying that the Secretary of State will want to ensure that the register is secure. Furthermore, once we have reached government Amendment No. 77 to Clause 24, which the noble Lord mentioned, there will be a specific reference in the Bill to the National Identity Scheme Commissioner being able to review the arrangements for securing the confidentiality and integrity of information that is recorded in the register. I should also, once again, remind noble Lords that the data on the register must be held in a manner that is compliant with the Data Protection Act, as I am sure the noble Lord and the noble Baroness will be aware. The security of data is dealt with in some detail by the seventh data protection principle, which provides that:
"Appropriate technical and organisational measures shall be taken against unauthorised or unlawful processing of personal data and against accidental loss or destruction of, or damage to, personal data".
I feel strongly that we should not seek to reiterate in this Bill the obligations that already fall on the Secretary of State by virtue of the Data Protection Act. Nor would it be desirable to provide for parallel or overlapping obligations.
We are often criticised for doing that in legislation—at least, that is the assumption behind some amendments. We need to have faith in the detailed provisions that not just your Lordships' House but another place has made about the protection of personal data.
In any event, we think that we are covered. We think that the amendment is unnecessary and question at least one item in the noble Lord's drafting, although, in spirit, we are all there. The noble Lord is absolutely right to continue making the case for secure and reliable data and ensuring that they are properly protected. Although we understand the point, we think this amendment is unnecessary and ultimately undesirable.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for what he has said. Indeed, he made the point about the Data Protection Act last time.
I tabled the amendment because this is a very particular Bill. It is about putting together a national central database; it is not about something wholly unrelated to data protection. Nothing could be more central to the Bill than the need to protect the data which find their way on to the register. The noble Lord more or less accepted that. It therefore seems bizarre to rely, by implication, on the provisions of another piece of legislation. There are nearly 42 pages in the Bill, and for us not to have, upfront, in Clause 1, a duty—part of the statutory purpose—to have secure storage and recording seems wrong and against common sense. On that basis, I should like to test the opinion of the House.
My Lords, this amendment, which is also in the name of my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford, is another to do with Clause 1, which one cannot repeat too often is the key clause in the Bill. It often is, but particularly so in this Bill.
Amendment No. 5 affects subsection (4), which stipulates:
"For the purposes of this Act something is necessary in the public interest"— that is the term of art—
"if, and only if, it is"— then there are five categories, as I am sure noble Lords know. The second of those categories at present reads:
"for the purposes of the prevention or detection of crime".
If my amendment is accepted by the Government or by the House, it would add:
"the sentence for which may be imprisonment or detention".
What is in my mind is to try to avoid a whole lot of petty offences trammelling the workings of the Act.
I suppose one could envisage a potential misuse by an irresponsible policeman of this provision. Anybody in the police force or in one of the other authorities with powers under the Act can apply for information on the register if they come within one of these five categories. One might conceivably imagine a policeman improperly seeking to get access to an address or previous addresses of an individual. In order to provide an excuse for that, the individual concerned might be followed in order to ascertain whether the most puny of misdemeanours was committed, such as parking where he or she should not be parking or parking longer than he or she should be parking for. That would then fall within the provisions of paragraph (b). That, in turn, would open the doors of the registry to enquiry and extraction of all information in it except as in the paragraph excluding sensitive personal data.
I thought fit to bring this before the House in order to deal with that. I also think that it would do no damage to what I take to be the mainstream purposes of the Government in bringing forward the Bill, because any offence of any seriousness will carry the possibility of imprisonment—or, in the case of a minor, of detention—even though as a matter of fact the magistrates would not contemplate imposing imprisonment, particularly for first offences.
That is the reasoning and the purpose of the amendment. I hope the Government will find favour with it. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have sympathy with the amendment that the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, has just moved. As he explained, it would limit the current drafting of the Bill. For the purpose of the national identity system, Clause 1(4)(b) would be:
"for the purposes of the prevention or detection of crime the sentence for which may be imprisonment or detention".
The amendment leads on from detailed debates that we had in Committee regarding both the Government's priority of the issues that they list as being in the public interest and both parties' probing attempts to limit the Government's broad definition of crime to that of serious crime. Indeed, my noble friend Lady Anelay noted in Committee that the Minister referred specifically on Second Reading to "serious crime", and not just to "crime", despite the drafting of the Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, and I are agreed that government drafting is too broad. However, on these Benches we are not convinced of what the final solution should be, as we are still in discussions with our colleagues in another place. As such, we cannot support the amendment, but I very much hope that the Minister will take the opportunity to outline exactly how they see this provision working. What definition of crime will it cover—will it involve fraud, theft or assault? I am sure that the House will be pleased to have further detailed clarification on this matter following debates in Committee.
My Lords, I support the amendment. As I said at a previous stage, to limit the clause to serious, soccer-style offences would be silly because some useful information would be available. A lot of people would expect some smaller crimes to be cleared up. I know that everyone says that the register will be leakage-proof, but we have to assume that that possibility always exists. To raise the threshold of crime at which the register can be accessed to an offence which might attract imprisonment will allay worries that people would obtain data from it for a frivolous purpose, which would lead to a leakage of data. I heartily support the amendment. It sets the threshold at the right level.
My Lords, the current provisions are needed. Noble Lords will know that false identities underpin much of the crime that takes place in this country, from volume crime to serious organised crimes. Criminals, especially those who are engaged in organised crime, are extremely adept at circumventing measures that have been put in place to limit their activities. I shall give noble Lords an example. Our research shows that about 60 per cent of drivers who are stopped provide false details. So it is very difficult when one is dealing just with serious crime to confine the provision in the way that the noble Lord suggests.
Amendment No. 5 provides that the register could be used only,
"for the purposes of the prevention or detection of crime, the sentence for which may be imprisonment or detention".
This would be an arbitrary limit and it should be rejected for the same reasons as those for which we rejected the suggestion in Committee to add the limit of serious crime. Crime of whatever nature needs to be addressed. It would not be appropriate to limit access to the register by preventing information being available where a police investigation relates to a non-imprisonable criminal offence. Such offences could include those in Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986—that is, causing harassment, alarm or distress—which carry a maximum penalty of a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale, which is £1,000. Under that Act, a person is guilty of an offence if he uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby. That offence can affect a number of people in a very disadvantageous way.
Another example is Section 24 of the Firearms Act. The offence of giving a shotgun to a person under 15 or supplying an air weapon to a person under 17 would not warrant imprisonment, but we could wish the police to have access to that information. I am sure that your Lordships could think of other examples. In addition, we recognise that it may not always be possible for the police to predict what the final charge would be and whether it would lead to an offence punishable by imprisonment. Indeed, in looking to prevent crime, they may end up bringing no charges at all because identity might exclude somebody from the scene.
There have been many cases where it has transpired that individuals who were suspected of what appeared to be very trivial offences such as traffic offences—I have alluded to the fact that many people do not tell the truth about their identity—were involved in much more serious crime or were wanted on other grounds; for example, immigration offences. Indeed, there have been cases of individuals subsequently being charged with very serious offences, involving terrorism or murder, where the initial police involvement was in relation to a minor offence. If the amendment were passed, it would preclude any check in respect of such offences against the national identity register. I am sure that no noble Lord would like to see that happen.
We do not accept that anyone would want that, and we do not accept that it would be right to tie the hands of the police in the way proposed in this amendment. The restriction that is suggested by Amendment No. 5 is both unworkable and unnecessary. I therefore invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
I am grateful to the Minister for her full defence of the status quo. Some of the examples that she gave would fall into my category of being inappropriate as entrées to the register, but I accept that others would be sensibly within the purview of the clause. I shall consider carefully what she said and have discussions with the Conservative Bench. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, the objective of the amendment is to focus on the Government's failure to meet one of the five reasonable tests which we set out at the beginning of our debates on the Bill. We pointed out that the Government must make clear not only the detail of the specific purposes for which an ID card would be required, but which of those purposes are priorities; otherwise it will be difficult for us to assess them. The Government failed to do that adequately in Committee.
Clause 1(4) proposes that the definition of what is necessary in the public interest should encompass anything that is,
"for the purpose of securing the efficient and effective provision of public services".
I would have thought that the efficient and effective provision of public services embraces the totality of government's duty in the area of public services. This paragraph is framed so widely that it would enable identity cards to be required in accessing literally any public service, so long as the Government claimed that it was in the interests of efficiency. It is the ultimate catch-all paragraph and, as such, it is entirely unsuitable to governing a Bill whose provisions have such a fundamental effect on the relations between the state and the citizen. Under it, everything from a registration of a birth to a registration of a death, from the arrival at the gates of a nursery to collecting a pension, could be made dependent on being registered. As the Minister made clear in the careful letter which she kindly sent to noble Lords last week, the paragraph covers everything under full compulsion, including being able to access a vast array of free health services.
In that way, within 10 years or so on the Government's current planning, an audit trail of the daily lives of every citizen could be built up. That is a giant step indeed. It should be one of the last steps that we take, when all the legitimate doubts about the costs, efficacy, security and scope of the scheme have been set to rest—if, as I doubt from hearing earlier debates, they can ever be set to rest. It should certainly not be one of the first steps. We should not permit the Government to do everything they wish in the name of efficiency. We should not simply leave the matter to regulations; it would be far better to set out limits in the Bill.
Amendment No. 6 tries to offer a solution. It creates the active purpose of policing crime and fraud in Clause 1(4)(e); that is, something much more limited and definable than a general purpose of being "efficient". We agree with the Government that citizens of this country would see any attack on the fraudulent access to services as being a useful step. There are more efficient ways of doing that than this Bill, but that is an argument for Second Reading and Committee, not for today. Surely, if the Government's method has any justification at all, it cannot be the creation and maintenance of a vast audit trail, but the specific purpose of preventing illegal and fraudulent access to services, which is, after all, what the Government originally told us this Bill would be all about when we started this process some considerable time ago.
If the purpose of the scheme were not the general management provision in subsection (4)(a), but were the more targeted, and frankly more necessary, purpose that I propose, we would end up designing an entirely different system. I suspect that it would be cheaper, more effective and more efficient than the one before us today. The register and ID cards risk becoming an end in themselves and not a solution. It is important to put this more careful definition in the Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support and have added my name to the amendment. I agree with every word that the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, said. The fifth subdivision of the definition of,
"necessary in the public interest", is different in kind from the other four. They involve a degree of illegality. This does not. If we were to leave this in the Bill, the national register would be open to anyone at any time for any information on it, provided they fall within the extremely broad ambit of who has access to that data.
I would go as far as to say that the amendment is one of the most important that could be conceived for keeping the scope of the national register within some sort of bounds. It is very dangerous—when you get sunk into a Bill such as this, you constantly think of those working within the establishment, perhaps forgetting that sometimes information is the property of the citizen, and that our privacy of our information is a considerable civic liberty which we should not impinge on in the way that this paragraph would allow. I strongly support the amendment.
My Lords, funnily enough, I do not support the amendment in some ways. If we were stuck with just the national identity register, then the amendment would be correct and it should be supported, because I do not think that the national identity register will secure,
"the efficient and effective provision of public services".
If the Government want to prevent duplicate benefit fraud, for example, there is logic to a central, hierarchical ID scheme controlled by the Government. But if that is what they are after, they should be honest and accept the amendment. If they really wanted to secure the efficient and effective provision of public services, which I would like to see, a national identity register is not needed, and instead we should have federated identity schemes that local authorities and so on could join, whereby citizens control their identities and it is unnecessary to hold the information on a central register.
I would like the Bill changed to include that acceptable alternative, and when the cost benefit analysis was done, the Government would work out that they could drop the central register and move to a federated identity commissioning scheme that would enable that efficient and effective provision of public services. I am torn, because I would like to table an amendment relating to a federated ID scheme and leave the Bill as it is to get rid of the national identity register. But I am sure that that will not happen, and in that case this amendment is more honest.
My Lords, if I thought that the purpose of the Government's wording was to enable government departments to trawl through identities and discover people who were not receiving the benefits to which they were entitled, I would support it—but I am pretty sure that that is not their intention. If they want to stop benefit fraud, they should say so and not use words that indicate something else.
My Lords, I tell the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, that this Government have done a considerable amount to try to make sure that those who are entitled to receive benefit but do not claim it have the advantage of claiming it. He will know that we have put in place schemes to assist particularly those who are disadvantaged by age and disability—there is cross-checking made across that whole area to try to ensure that, for example, a person with a disability who needs extra money actually gets it. I heard the noble Lord's cynicism, but I assure noble Lords that this Government have already taken many steps to try to make sure that those who are entitled to benefit receive it—not least because if they receive benefit that takes them above the poverty threshold they do not get so ill and we can look after them better.
Perhaps we may stick to the amendment. It is not necessary, because narrowing the public interest to preventing illegal or fraudulent access to public services would not allow us the full benefit of the Bill. I should reiterate a point in relation to the register. I know that many people have said much about the register, but the database that we will have in relation to biometric passports will mean that that information will be held and available in any event. We need to understand that, and we would be looking to use this scheme to help to make the delivery of public services better. That means helping to deliver services more efficiently and effectively in the interest of the public as taxpayers and as users of services. Inefficiency in public services is of no benefit to anyone.
Transforming public services will be helped by being able to provide a secure, reliable and fast way of confirming identity. That is why we believe it would be wrong to regard the use of identity cards as simply a guard against fraud. Combating fraud will be one of the purposes of the identity cards scheme—a very important one—but not the only one.
We should not limit the use of identity cards in helping to deliver better public services. It is not just a question of combating fraudulent use of public services; it is also about helping to transform those services. We believe that the public will want the introduction of identity cards to be used as a way of helping public services to deliver quicker and better services. Why should we have to keep filling in different forms with details of our name and address? If production of an identity card when seeking access to a public service can confirm our identity quickly and easily, surely we should be aiming to provide that. If producing an identity card enables address details to be confirmed, that will help both the public service and the applicant for that service.
I have spoken previously about the Criminal Records Bureau, which has to be certain of the identity of anyone who is seeking a criminal records check. However, mistakes are made in identifying people, and since 2004 there have been over 1,000 occasions where applicant details supplied by the Criminal Records Bureau to the police led to conviction details being matched mistakenly with an applicant. If one considers the number of John James Smiths who may have been born on any given date in any hospital in our country, one can see the way that mistakes can arise. An identity card check would provide a much more reliable method of confirming the person's true identity and so avoid those kinds of mistakes.
My Lords, I am sorry to intervene, but as the police national computer has the 10 fingerprints of applicants, why were they not checked? Or when they were checked, why was the biometric not good enough? Since the police national computer fingerprints are kept to a higher standard than those proposed on the new national identity register, I do not see how those 1,000 people slipped through, and if they did, it does not bode well for the future register.
My Lords, the way in which such checks have sometimes gone awry has been when there were very similar data such as very similar addresses, and human error has occurred in the system. It is by no means a matter of pride, because every effort is made to try to make sure that we eradicate mistakes. We believe that it would be appropriate to use the new register in a way that would make those mistakes more difficult. An identity card check would provide a much more reliable method of confirming a person's true identity and help to avert such mistakes.
As I have said previously, when it comes to any requirement to use identity cards to access public services, there are already provisions and safeguards in the Bill at Clauses 15 and 16. By restricting the statutory purposes of the Bill and the scheme therefore to only combating illegal or fraudulent access to public services, we would define it far too narrowly and would risk restricting the usefulness of the scheme to the public.
I hear what the noble Baroness says about tracking data, but she knows as well as I do that, with the use of CCTV cameras, with our bank details from HSBC and other banks, and with the clutch of store cards that some of us have in our pockets from Tesco, Sainsbury's and Waitrose, there is a huge amount of data about where we go and what we do. It is not proposed that that sort of data will be utilised as the noble Baroness fears; this register will enable us simply to advance the proper use and efficiency of public services in a way that we believe would be very helpful to members of the public.
My Lords, I hope the Minister will forgive me, but I am confused at a much higher level than those on the Front Benches. Is she saying that all the information will be on one register, and will all that information be transferred to one identity card—or will there be several identity cards?
My Lords, there is going to be only the one identity card. I was merely responding to the suggestion made by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, that it would be a way in which to track our day-to-day business, every second of the day. I simply sought to suggest that that is happening already through other forms and that it is not the purpose for which we are going to use the register. The concerns that the noble Baroness expressed are not really justified, as there are perfectly proper administrative changes that we could make through using this register which would be helpful to the citizen to ensure that they were not unnecessarily burdened by administrative production of matters that could very easily be dealt with by the ID card. That is all that I was seeking to suggest; the noble Baroness need not worry about that.
No, my Lords, your identity card will be able to identify you, and those who wish to verify your identity will be able to do so by checking against the register.
My Lords, we are talking at this stage about a national identity register that is voluntary. Under those circumstances, the claims that the Minister is making for the register in respect of more efficient public services really cannot add up, can they? They apply properly only if you have a compulsory register.
My Lords, I do not intend to get up again. I should not be getting up and down, as this is Report. But I can say to the noble Lord that the whole scheme is predicated on the basis that it will become compulsory in the long term. For the reasons I have given, these issues are things that we believe will be extremely helpful, and we will derive benefit from them. All the data will not be on the card; there is a limited amount, set out in affirmative regulations, to which we shall come later.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part. I hear exactly what the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, says: the Government's scheme would not be his best choice, as he would go for a federated scheme which would find a different way of doing things. But we are where we are, and what I am trying to do is, exactly as he perceives, to create a more transparent system, which, if the Bill goes through unaltered, will work slightly better than the one we have now.
The Minister says that I should still my beating heart and that I am not to worry because we are already in a surveillance society, with CCTV cameras and so on; she says, "Let's just put it all together and make it easy for the Government to have complete control and you don't need to worry any more". The trouble is that I do worry. What the Government propose is more than a straightforward register; it is the audit trail that concerns me. The Minister says that nothing would be put on the audit trail that is not already there; it is simply disseminated in various places.
Last week, I attended a clinic in Woking, which is one of those community hospitals—and at my great age, sadly, I did not have to make use of the family planning clinic, which was in the room next to me. But I was in conversation with young people in their late teens, who were there without their parents' knowledge and were concerned that they had a sexually transmitted disease. They said that that particular clinic gave them the confidence and freedom to be able to seek advice. Perhaps they would get advice and be treated; it may well be that they would be told that they did not have anything to worry about. But they had gone there because there was no tracking of them. I considered that—and, to me, it is one of the crucial issues. One ought to be able to give people the opportunity to retain their anonymity and privacy when it is right to do so. That is why we need to narrow the definition here; as the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, says, we need to keep the scope of the register within reasonable bounds. My amendment is an attempt to do that. I wish to test the opinion of the House.
moved Amendment No. 7:
Page 2, line 10, leave out paragraphs (b) and (c) and insert—
"( ) the address of his principal place of residence in the United Kingdom;
( ) the address of every other place in the United Kingdom or elsewhere where he has a place of residence;
( ) where in the United Kingdom and elsewhere he has previously been resident;"
My Lords, I hope these government amendments will find favour with noble Lords opposite, not least because in the main they respond to requests and pleas from Members all around the House. With the leave of the House, I will speak also to government Amendments Nos. 27 and 117, as well as to Amendments Nos. 8, 10, 25 and 26, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. I hope that it will be clear that government Amendment No. 7, which introduces a new form of words to replace paragraphs (b) and (c) of Clause 1(5), responds to points raised by the noble Baroness and noble Lords opposite in Committee.
I hope that we have demonstrated that we are a listening Government. Therefore, we have listened carefully and responded. We have been persuaded that it would make the Bill clearer and remove any doubt if we inserted a specific reference to principal residence in this subsection; and that we should also provide for the possibility of holding an address outside the United Kingdom. Although the national identity register is intended for United Kingdom residents, there could easily be cases, such as foreign students, for whom it might make sense to retain an address abroad and for this to be held on the register. I very much hope that your Lordships will accept this amendment and the consequential amendments, Amendment No. 27 to Schedule 1, and Amendment No. 117 to Clause 43.
Amendment No. 27 acts in a slightly different way from Amendments Nos. 25 and 26, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, to allow addresses outside the United Kingdom to be held on the register by including them in Schedule 1, and I hope, therefore, that she will agree not to move those amendments.
Amendment No. 8, in the name of the noble Baroness, as an amendment to government Amendment No. 7, is concerned with the aspect of the Bill which allows address history to be held on the national identity register as part of the registrable facts. We made clear in Committee that applicants for identity cards will be asked for information about current principal address, any current alternative address and previous addresses. However, there will be no need to ask about every single address at which they have lived since they were born and in nearly every case we would not expect to ask people for details of where they have lived any earlier than six years previously. I know that that causes the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, some concern.
However, it would be wrong to write a limit of six years into the Bill. Previous addresses are needed to enable a background check to be made to ensure that a gold standard of identity is entered into the register. There may be some cases where it is just not possible to check the past six years but for which there might be earlier information available—for example, someone who has been working abroad but has an earlier address history in the United Kingdom. We should also bear in mind that it is much harder for a fraudster to create false historic records and so if there were any doubt over an applicant's true identity a check back on evidence of where they have lived, say, earlier than six years ago might help to resolve those doubts.
In addition, once an identity card has been issued, historic data of information previously recorded will continue to be held on the register so long as it is consistent with the statutory purposes. That means being able to retain information on previous addresses. Thus, if the police were investigating a crime that had taken place in the past, they should be able to seek information about an individual's previous addresses which could then be provided in accordance with Clause 19.
Of course, previous addresses would be archive information and so would not be part of the current record and could not be provided when a person consented to an identity check against the register under Clause 14. We amended the Bill from the version introduced before the election so that previous addresses are not now held in the information recorded in paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 but could be provided under Clause 14. This means that it would not be possible for, say, a commercial organisation to seek provision of an individual's complete address history on the national identity register even with that person's consent.
In extremis, if, say, someone wanted to be reminded of previous address details that they had forgotten they could obtain it by making a Data Protection Act data subject access request. I hope that your Lordships will accept that holding address history on the register will be a help rather than a hindrance.
Amendment No. 10 would preclude treating as a place of residence the residential accommodation at a place of higher education. We do not see the need to do that and especially not to place such a detailed provision in the Bill. Some students may want to continue to regard their parents' address as their principal one while others may prefer to nominate their term-time address whether in halls of residence or private accommodation. The details on which addresses should be recorded should be left to the individual and any detailed provisions on what information needs to be provided to update address information on the register including any exceptions should be left to the regulations which will be made under Clause 12.
I do not believe that it would be helpful to be constrained by the provisions in the noble Baroness's amendments and I ask her, therefore, to withdraw Amendment No. 8. I hope that she will find that we have taken the meat of her amendments and ensured that it is present in the Bill; as indeed we have taken in the comments made by noble Lords around the House of the same import. I beg to move.
My Lords, the noble Baroness opened by saying she hoped they were a listening Government and that their amendments have been tabled in response to debates in Committee. I hope that I may say without being opposed by any of my noble colleagues that we always think that the noble Baroness is a listening Minister. Our difficulty is that she does not run the Government. I hope that that does not kill her career stone dead today. We know full well that there are times when she listens but does not agree with us. There are times when she listens and agrees but is unable to carry the matter into legislation. That is one of the interesting facets of a political life. In most of these amendments, the noble Baroness has met the concerns we expressed. I welcome Amendment No. 7 in so far as it does that. My amendments in these groups today are probing in nature and are not intended to go further than that.
On Amendment No. 8, the noble Baroness has taken us much further today than was possible in Committee or in another place. She has talked about some of the exceptions where the Government would need to consider a period before six years—exceptions that, so far as I am aware, have not been debated previously. I shall consider what she said because she has adduced very reasonable arguments. There could be people without any history in this country in the past six years. They may have been homeless or rootless during that time and are unable to produce that information. For whatever reasons, they may have historic evidence overseas. I accept that that is a good argument.
There are other circumstances in which it is still intrusive as a matter of course to require that people should go back beyond six years. I do not intend to revamp the Committee stage argument: we pointed out how onerous it could be on individuals to go back 40 or 50 years. However, I recall the noble Baroness saying—I do not wish to put words into her mouth—that perhaps as a matter of good practice the Government might say that if you have lived somewhere for less than three months the place or the dates might not have to be revealed. That is in my mind. I can then move on to the way in which she has dealt with my other amendments. I am grateful to her for that.
My amendment on students was badly drafted. I sought to put down words which fairly reflected some of the concerns put to me by universities. It does not cover all the issues raised but it was the only one I could find that was admissible. I was intrigued to hear the Minister say that students might wish to choose either their home or college address. I understand the sense in that; however, I suspect that they would not live more than three months at a time at their college address; therefore, the college address might be exempted. I shall need to consider that issue further and perhaps talk to the noble Baroness.
Universities and colleges have been concerned about how students might be affected. I am aware that the Government would be in great difficulty in exempting students per se because there are many different kinds of students. As a very mature student in my late 30s, I did a taught MA when I was living at home. Other students who had taken lodgings for that time kept their original address. Many of those students were sponsored civil servants. I know that the Government are in a difficult position but the statement in the Bill is very wide. I have been trying to get some assurance for outside bodies that at least their concerns are recognised. The noble Baroness has gone some way towards doing that today, and I shall have to think very carefully about what she said about Amendment No. 10.
The noble Baroness has exactly met my queries with regard to Amendments Nos. 25 and 26, although perhaps for a reason different from mine. I am very happy with what she said. I thought that my amendment and that moved by the noble Baroness might also have a relevance to the position of UK citizens. During our debates in Committee, my noble friend Lord Northesk mentioned that he sometimes lives in the United States. Indeed, I know that the noble Baroness's noble friend, the noble Lord, Lord Acton—he is not in his place so I will let him know afterwards that I referred to him by name—gives in Dod's as his principal address an address in the USA, perfectly properly. So I accept that her amendment is right but perhaps for different reasons.
Overall, I think that we need to consider a little further—perhaps by debate; it may not be necessary to do so by way of a later amendment—how far back one goes in tracking addresses and why. However, I accept the noble Baroness's amendment today and I certainly shall not press my Amendment No.8, although as a matter of course I have to beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for government Amendment No. 7 because it certainly addresses one of the issues that I raised earlier and I am content with the way in which it is now left. I want to make two short comments. One is in relation to Amendment No. 8 in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Anelay of St Johns and Lady Seccombe. I heard what the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, said about six years being too short a period in some circumstances. On the other hand, it seems to me to be highly desirable to have some limit on how far back one can search for information to go on the register. A number of outside commentators have made critical remarks about the open-ended time in terms of the history of each individual who is to be on the register, and I think that that needs further thought by the Government.
My other point is in respect of Amendment No. 10, also in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, and I declare an interest as Chancellor of Essex University. Again, I am happy that the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, will think more about this matter—in conjunction, I hope, with the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland—because we have to do something about the constant movement of students from one accommodation to another. In the course of a four-year degree, one can easily have four separate addresses and that is a burden, particularly at a university such as Essex, which has a huge proportion of foreign students. It may sound trivial but I believe that it is an altogether unnecessary extra burden that everyone, including the poor old registrar, can do without. I hope very much that some formula might be arrived at in time for the final stage of the Bill.
My Lords, I want to make one general point and ask one specific question. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her elaboration today of the explanation that she gave in Committee on
My specific question comes from rereading the Official Report of the debate on
But there is no paragraph 1(h) of Schedule 1. I am not sure how this has arisen and to what the noble Baroness is referring. As she said a few moments ago, the regulations will come under Clause 12, and presumably any details that she sets out will come in those regulations. So I am not sure how paragraph 1(h) of Schedule 1, existing or not, has crept into the whole matter, and I should be grateful for clarification.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for the effort that she has made because I was going through a soul-searching exercise and thinking that I would like to know the names and addresses of all the places where I have lived. Those of us who have worked in international organisations and have been brought up internationally forget addresses very quickly. The noble Baroness has addressed the issue but I have certain concerns regarding the terminology. The word "resident" is used but it can sometimes be misinterpreted as "being resident" or "ordinarily resident" and it may get confused with one's original status in life. That causes concerns for people who have dual passports and international people.
Those who have worked in multinational or international organisations will often have been on secondments for a maximum period of two years. In some cases in my former group, the secondment was to the cruise liners, where effectively you lived for a period of time, often with no separate residence. The same would often apply to bachelors in the Navy, who would regard the ship as their home and would have no separate residence. I am not saying that there is any confusion but I should have preferred it if we had stuck to the phrase "where they have lived for a reasonable period of time" rather than using the word "resident".
This is a difficult issue because we will still have all the terrible problems that we read about from time to time in newspapers of a married man cohabiting in another house with someone else and denying that that is his permanent residence. I think that the problem of where people are came up when we originally looked at the poll tax. I am not suggesting that the amendment moved by the noble Baroness is not acceptable because she has really tried, but I think that all sorts of problems may emerge later which could cause individuals harm.
Therefore, I wonder whether it might be possible to define the word "residence" more accurately and change it to, say, "where someone has lived for a reasonable period of time". Whether it is six or five years does not matter. This also applies to multinational students—not those from some of the countries nearer to home but those from the third world and others, who often will not have a full address.
Once, in Cairo, I tried to produce a street map with addresses because there were no addresses. It was a case of turn right at wherever it might be—there were no traffic lights. That happens in many areas. The latest reports produced by the immigration people on a number of residents of the United Kingdom or those born abroad in some of the African countries show that they do not have addresses. I am not trying to make difficulties; I just want to point out that some issues which may appear relatively simple are not as simple as we would like to believe.
My Lords, I found myself looking at Amendment No. 7 from the point of view of the person who was registering. Are the Government intending to have a fairly precise instruction regarding previous addresses? From conversations that I have had with people about the Bill, I have discovered that what worries them most is the requirement to give all their previous addresses. They say that they cannot remember what they were and they mention various other things, such as my noble friend has just mentioned. Do the Government intend to have a form with fairly precise instructions so that if people have to give much earlier addresses than others, they will know who they are and what they have to do? I think that that is important.
My Lords, I do not mean to cause difficulties; I am trying to be helpful to the noble Baroness—the listening Minister. Following what the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, said, I am looking at Amendment No. 17 which is in the same group. It is a definition in the general interpretation clause, Clause 43. It defines "place of residence" and "resides" and there is an amendment to that which says "and cognate expressions". Of course, it does not define the word "resident" itself, so that may need to be put in. I was not sure what a "cognate expression" was and I wondered whether it included "stayed" or "lived" but not "domiciled". I hope that it does not include "domiciled", or I can see problems with the tax authorities and much difficulty in getting people to register things, which is the whole intention.
However, my attention was drawn to the fact that all this is subject to regulations under subsection (10) of the same Clause 43, regulations defining what an address is. That has been worrying me slightly because under Clause 12 that would presumably apply from the moment the first person is added forcibly, when they are issued with a new passport, to the national identity register. That is the requirement to notify any changes. It will be an offence attracting a £10,000 civil penalty should one not notify any changes. Presumably that will affect people about two years after the start; otherwise the register will be out of date before the last people are put on it.
What is a valid address for the regulations? This needs to be looked at because at the moment the effort to bring together the Royal Mail postal address database, the Ordnance Survey address point database and the land and property gazetteers—there is the LLPG and the NLPG—has foundered under copyright problems. Suddenly people realise that there is value in the property rights and, with things being hived off to agencies, they cannot afford to lose value under company law. Equally, local authorities are always starved of cash. So, if they are sitting on something that might be valuable, such as the LLPG, they will want money for it. All that will have to be gone through and dealt with. Otherwise, how will one define a valid address? If someone does not know what is a valid address or it is made very difficult to define a valid address, some people will attract fines of £1,000 from day one. The first people on the register will probably be those with good addresses, so one may have two or three years in which to sort it out, but it is the wrong basis on which to proceed.
One also has to decide how one will define valid overseas addresses. I am just pointing out that in the regulations made under Clause 43(10), although they are not actually dealt with, one needs to start thinking about what will replace the national spatial address infrastructure. Otherwise, we will have complicated regulations and we really will not know how to register a Gypsy in a lay-by or a tramp in a barn or all sorts of other people who one would eventually want to register.
My Lords, I am pleased that at least on this occasion I have given a modicum of satisfaction. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, that the power to make regulations about addresses to be regarded as "places of residence" and "principal place of residence" is provided under Clause 43(10), as the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, has just indicated. I hope I have made it clear that students will have the option of keeping on the register their home address or a term-time address or both. That will give them some security. Some students, as the noble Baroness knows, are fortunate enough to stay at one address for their three or four years of study, but some have to change all the time as the rent goes up and down and according to what they can or cannot afford. Therefore, there is some mix and match. These provisions have been cast in a way that responds to the reality of people's lives. We hope that it will meet that.
The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, is right to say that I made reference to paragraph 1(h). That referred to the paragraph on previous addresses under the old draft. It was paragraph 1(h). The Bill was changed to remove the previous addresses which will be recorded in historic information in paragraph 5(a). I believe that that is how the confusion occurred. If I did that at the wrong stage, I certainly apologise. I think that the Bill was actually changed in the Commons and not here, but I am unsure about that. That is the reason for the difference, though, if I may respectfully say so, it is a difference without a difference.
The noble Earl suggested that the penalty was £10,000. It is not—it is £1,000. I hope that the noble Earl will remember that on the last occasion when we debated this, I spoke about the ease with which we hoped addresses could be changed—the facilities of trying to do it online and making it swift and easy—so that it will not be too cumbersome or burdensome.
The noble Earl also raised the issue of "cognate expression", which means a variant of "reside", including "resident". It does not really affect "domicile". We think that we have alighted on the correct phrase.
On the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, we shall do everything we can to bring clarity, just as we do with passports. The noble Baroness will know that there are guidance notes to help one through that. Another advantage that we shall have is that there will be an interview to try to ensure that the information that goes on to the register is correct. People will be helped. The whole import of this is not to trick or confuse people; it is to try to get from them the just information that they will need to be able to identify themselves accurately in the future. We hope that that will be done sympathetically and that it will take into account the reality of the way in which people live their lives, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, has described in the past. If one has a peripatetic existence, it is not surprising that one does not remember exactly all the addresses where one has lived. The noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, gave us a graphic example of why that is the case.
We think that the amendments meet the situation. I understand the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury. We think that the combination of the regulations, the guidance notes that will go out and the interview will enable us to achieve the correct balance. The amendments that I have tabled today will help us to do that. I absolutely agree with the concerns that were raised by noble Lords in the debates on these issues and that is why we have responded to them in a practical and pragmatic way through these amendments.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. I shall certainly think further on what she has said about students. As she said, there is a choice. The only reason why I do not hold up my hands and concede at this stage is that I want to go back to the university and further education sector to check that they are happy. I suspect that they will be content.
I was interested in what my noble friend Lord Selsdon said about those from overseas not being able to give what we consider to be an address. I think we have referred to this before in Committee. One can come from deepest Darfur and not be able to give what is an accepted address here. I recognise that the Home Office has to deal with this with regard to those who seek asylum in this country. The information that the noble Baroness has given in Committee and on Report is such that, through the interview system, there should be a way of eliciting sufficient information to acquire the kind of corroboration that will stand up. We shall see if this works only when it is operational and we shall have to look at the reporting system then.
It may help the House if at this stage I state that after the dinner break I shall not move Amendment No. 31. It does not achieve what I had hoped it would achieve and I will not take the time of the House. That is a polite way of saying I have got it wrong.
I have also indicated to the Bill team that in the dinner break I will look to see if there is another group of amendments that I may not need to move, if I can get assurances on that. If that is the case, I will ensure that the Front Benches know before we resume. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, this amendment inserts a paragraph into subsection (5), which lists what will constitute a registrable fact under this clause. This will include the number of any ID card with which an individual has been issued by another nation, together with the date and place of its issue.
The question of what information overseas visitors should be required to supply, and when, is central not only to the functioning of the scheme but also to the public consent in the scheme. I have no doubt that most British people think that the main purpose of the scheme is to control the activities of potential terrorists coming from abroad to settle here, and do not understand that short-term settlers are to be among the very few people not to be included. Indeed, Clause 2—which we will come to—is explicitly drafted to exclude these people. It seems an odd idea to spend billions of pounds—we should not forget that £10 billion would build 430 new secondary schools—to run a surveillance system of UK citizens while excluding short-term foreign visitors.
The schedule to the Bill implies that the register may record the number of a passport or identity card issued abroad, but should it necessarily do so? If any UK citizen who does not have a passport wants to leave our country—that will probably involve 600,000 people next year, rising to 4.5 million a year by 2008—is going to be made to attend an interview centre, be questioned for at least 10 minutes and be fingerprinted and photographed before being allowed to get out of Britain, then surely those seeking to enter our country must—not may—provide this basic information.
This is not being demanded from the outset. Can the Minister also explain how it will operate in the EU context? Three EU nations—Denmark, Latvia and Ireland—do not have ID cards. Is the Minister saying that Mrs Adams of Wolverhampton will, from next year, under government proposals, have to buy an ID card as a tax on leaving Britain if she wants to visit her daughter in Canada, but that Mrs Adams from Dublin will not be subject to the regime at all if she wants to visit London? I do not quite understand this logic. What exactly will be expected of overseas visitors, and EU visitors in particular, in what circumstances and when? I beg to move.
My Lords, I have a lot of sympathy with my noble friend but do not totally agree with her amendment. She is right, because she has raised an important issue in that nobody should be entitled to enter without proof of identity. We are aware of the number of people who have slipped through that net over the years. It is a matter of considerable concern. The question is therefore how that proof of identity, entitling a foreign resident or foreigner to enter the United Kingdom, can be converted into some form of data that may be retained on the national register. With that, depending on the length of stay which he has in the United Kingdom, might have normally gone the requirement that he should carry his national piece of identity, whatever that may be, with him at all times.
Within the EEA, almost all biometric cards that go with a passport will be relatively standardised. However, in other countries, the pieces of identification that I have had to look at when people have asked to open a bank account or withdraw funds run to something that was perhaps run under a hosepipe for month or sat under a camel. Proof of identity usually never has a number that we could relate to it. If we are seeking to collect the numbers of a piece of identification, we should surely have within that the place of origin and the date of issue. Surely, above all, it should have that proof of identity that was issued to an entrant upon the moment he entered the United Kingdom.
My Lords, I can see the point of this. We have got a rather anomalous situation that mirrors that which I believe existed on the Continent in the mid-19th century. France and everywhere had ID cards and controlled the movements of their citizens extremely rigorously. The only people allowed to travel freely, who could get on with life and trade and other things, were the mad English, who did not have any form of identity, not even a passport. The Continent had to accept that they could have freedom of movement, so they lived a much more privileged existence. That would be completely the wrong way round to treat our citizens and would cause a lot of trouble, so we need to get this right.
The noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, has, I think, half-anticipated our response. Simply, the amendment is unnecessary, as that information may already be recorded on the register. Clause 1(5)(g) lists among the registrable facts,
"information about numbers allocated to him for identification purposes and about the documents to which they relate".
The corresponding parts of Schedule 1 are: paragraph 4(1)(h), which allows the recording in an individual's entry of,
"the number of any identity card issued to him by the authorities of a country or territory outside the United Kingdom"; paragraph 4(1)(m), which provides for the recording of,
"the date of expiry or period of validity of a document the number of which is recorded by virtue of this paragraph"; and paragraph 7(a) of Schedule 1.
Noble Lords made points about visitors. It is an expectation and requirement that those coming to this country will have to have valid travel documents. Short-term visitors—those staying here for less than three months—will not be obliged to have an identity card, whether from the EU, other countries or, indeed, British citizens living abroad. They will not be required to register unless and until they are resident for three months. After that time, however, as we carefully explained in Committee, it will be a requirement to register, so a document will exist for them.
I think that answers the points, and I am happy that the noble Baroness has moved this amendment so that we could give some further explanation.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. There is more thought to go into this, because it is not all straight and easy to understand. It is important that the citizens of this country feel that it is all straight, above board and understandable. At this stage, however, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I beg to move that further consideration on Report be now adjourned. In moving the Motion I suggest that the Report stage begin again not before 8.30 pm.