My Lords, I beg to move that the Commons amendments and reasons be now considered.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
COMMONS AMENDMENTS AND REASONS
[The page and line references are to Bill 28 as first printed for the Lords.]
1 Clause 1, page 1, line 3, at beginning insert "Subject to section (Commencement: report on costs and benefits),"
68 Clause 45, page 39, line 12, at beginning insert "Subject to section (Commencement: report on costs and benefits),"
69 Page 39, line 12, after "section" insert ", section (Commencement: report on costs and benefits),"
70 After Clause 45, insert the following new Clause—
"Commencement: report on costs and benefits
(1) No provision of this Act, except sections 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.
(2) The report shall contain—
(a) a detailed estimate of the revenue and capital costs arising from this Act ("the cost estimate"); and
(b) a statement of the expected benefits of this Act.
(3) The cost estimate shall cover costs incurred by the bodies specified in subsection (6) and shall comprise—
(a) a statement in the format of resource accounts as defined in the Government Resources and Accounts Act 2000 (c. 20);
(b) a statement of cash expenditures;
(c) a statement setting out the material assumptions that have been made in preparing the cost estimate.
(4) The cost estimate shall include—
(a) the actual costs incurred in the period from 26th April 2004 to the date to which the cost estimate is prepared; and
(b) 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.
(5) The cost estimate shall be analysed into each of the financial years ending 31st March covered by the cost estimate.
(6) The bodies referred to in subsection (3) are—
(a) all Government departments or agencies;
(b) any other person who carries out functions under this Act;
and for the avoidance of doubt it is hereby declared that "Government departments or agencies" includes any Northern Ireland department and the National Assembly for Wales.
(7) The cost estimate shall be examined by the Comptroller and Auditor General who shall prepare a report on it and shall lay the report before Parliament."
The Commons disagree to Lords Amendments Nos. 1, 68, 69 and 70, but propose the following amendment in lieu—
70A Page 33, line 19, at end insert the following new Clause—
"Report to Parliament about likely costs of ID cards scheme
(1) Before the end of the six months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, the Secretary of State must prepare and lay before Parliament a report setting out his estimate of the public expenditure likely to be incurred on the ID cards scheme during the ten years beginning with the laying of the report.
(2) Before the end of every six months beginning with the laying of a report under this section, the Secretary of State must prepare and lay before Parliament a further report setting out his estimate of the public expenditure likely to be incurred on the ID cards scheme during the ten years beginning with the end of those six months.
(3) References in this section, in relation to any period of ten years, to the public expenditure likely to be incurred on the ID cards scheme are references to the expenditure likely to be incurred over that period by the Secretary of State and designated documents authorities on—
(a) the establishment and maintenance of the Register;
(b) the issue, modification, renewal, replacement, re-issue and surrender of ID cards;
(c) the provision to persons by the Secretary of State of information recorded in individuals' entries in the Register.
(4) If it appears to the Secretary of State that it would be prejudicial to securing the best value from the use of public money to publish any matter by including it in his next report under this section, he may exclude that matter from that report."
I should say, yet again, that we have already published the expected costs of issuing identity cards. The current best estimate of the annual average running costs of issuing identity cards and passports to British citizens is £584 million from the start of the identity cards scheme. This is the cost of issuing identity cards and passports, as well as the cost of running and compiling the national identity register and providing an identity verification service.
The running costs of the identity cards scheme will be funded from fees charged to passport and identity card applicants or users of the identity verification service or from within existing departmental budgets. The fact that the bulk of the costs will be covered from fees means that, without these fees, there simply is no vast pot of money that could be diverted to other uses, such as more police officers or more immigration officers.
We have published the estimated unit cost of the joint passport and identity card package, which is £93 for both documents—a passport and an identity card. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has also made it clear that it will be affordable to issue a stand-alone identity card at a fee of around £30.
The new Home Office agency to be established to issue identity cards and to incorporate the existing United Kingdom Passport Service will publish corporate and business plans as well as annual accounts. A full business case will go through extensive internal and Treasury review and challenge prior to contract sign on identity cards, and the whole identity cards programme is subject to regular Office of Government Commerce gateway reviews.
As I made clear when we discussed Amendment No. 70 on Report, the Government do not accept that there is a need for such a complicated report of the estimated costs of the identity card scheme as set out in the proposed new clause—together with any consequential costs falling on other departments—before the Bill can come into effect. Nor do we consider that the parliamentary procedure proposed in Amendment No. 70 is appropriate, as it cuts across existing procedure for estimates of government expenditure to be approved in the other place. The Government's view is that it would be wrong for the identity cards legislation to be incapable of being commenced fully until a report on cost estimates was completed, as set out in Amendment No. 70. For this reason, the amendment was rejected by a majority of 53 in the other place.
The Government have listened, however, to what has been said in both Houses about the need to be reassured further on costs. We accept that there is a legitimate public interest in the estimated costs of the identity card scheme and it is for that reason that the Government agreed to the amendment in lieu, Amendment No. 70A. This requires regular reports of the expected costs of the identity card scheme to be published and laid before Parliament. Indeed, unlike what is proposed in Amendment No. 70, these reports will need to be published not just once but every six months and so will provide reassurance that any changes in the estimated costs, whether the estimates increase or decrease, will be reported on at least a half-yearly basis. The reports will include the estimated costs for the 10 years from the laying of the report and so will give a clear view on the future estimated costs once the scheme is fully rolled out and will cover the expected validity period of 10 years for identity cards.
Amendment No. 70A also recognises that we must not provide information that could undermine obtaining the best value for money when we go out to the open tender for the procurement of the different elements of the identity card scheme. The amendment means that, while procurement is in progress, any commercially confidential breakdown of costs will not be published. But, and it is an important but, the requirement to report on a six-monthly basis means that any such exclusion will be reviewed and will apply for only as long as there is genuine reason to safeguard value for money so as to protect the taxpayer and the public who will benefit from the identity card scheme.
In summary, we are now persuaded that we should include a reference on the face of the Bill to publish regularly, indeed at six-monthly intervals, reports which would be laid before Parliament of the likely costs of the identity card scheme. The procedure included in Amendment No. 70A is, we think, sensible and balanced and would not put value for money at risk. On that basis, I beg to move.
Moved, That the House do not insist on its Amendments Nos. 1, 68, 69 and 70 and do agree to Amendment No. 70A proposed by the Commons in lieu of those amendments.—(Baroness Scotland of Asthal.)
My Lords, I should make it clear from the beginning that I do not oppose the Government's Motion A, and on that basis I invite my colleagues also not to oppose it. I think it right that I should put on record our views, particularly on the amendment in lieu.
As the noble Baroness explained, Amendment No. 70A was proposed in the other place in lieu of our amendments. It was technically, as the noble Baroness explained, not a government-led amendment but was tabled by Mr Frank Dobson. It is not right today that we should return to rehearsing arguments for greater transparency and openness about the costs associated with the ID card scheme. The Government conceded that principle in another place when they supported Mr Dobson's amendment. The issue for today is whether Amendment No. 70A achieves transparency and openness in sufficient measure.
I took the opportunity to go to another place on the occasion of its consideration of Lords amendments and I watched Mr Dobson move his amendment. I do not for one moment doubt his sincerity or his belief that he was making very significant progress towards transparency; I just think he was a little over-optimistic. I think his amendment is a little too timid—not a word I would normally dare put in the same sentence as Mr Dobson, but let me remind the House that that refers to his amendment and not to the gentleman himself.
When the Bill left your Lordships' House, it required a detailed analysis of the costs and benefits of the ID card scheme. Amendment No. 70A concentrates only on the costs of the scheme and has nothing about benefits. That is not surprising, because the amendment refers to costs incurred only by the Home Office and the designated document authorities. Our Amendment No. 70 was very clear in requiring the Government to reveal all the costs to be incurred across the whole of government. We know that if the ID card scheme is to yield the benefits that the Government have claimed—for example, in benefits, entitlements and identity fraud—costs will be incurred in other departments and agencies. Our amendment took a holistic view of the costs and the benefits of the ID card scheme. Mr Dobson's Amendment No. 70A takes a narrow view from the Home Office's perspective.
Amendment No. 70A, as the Minister explained, has the advantage of providing regular, rolling 10-year estimates of costs on a six-monthly basis. This is a valuable feature. It talks about estimates of "public expenditure", which is not defined. I am not clear whether that is expected to be on a cash basis or a resource accounts basis. Our amendment was quite specific that both types of figure were required and that both revenue and capital costs were required. That may seem arcane, but if a PFI-type financing deal were used to pay for the ID card scheme, it is not clear that Amendment No. 70A would deliver the transparency that we all seek.
The Minister will not be surprised that we find subsection (4) of Amendment No. 70A difficult to swallow. We have tried hard and we are managing to do it—just. The subsection allows the Secretary of State to exclude any information that he considers would be prejudicial to securing best value from the use of public money. We have disagreed with the Government on the validity of withholding procurement information from Parliament, given that they are purchasing in competitive markets. We fear that that subsection could be abused, especially as Amendment No. 70A also lacks the mandatory review by the Comptroller and Auditor General that featured in our amendment. But I have listened to and, as always, accept the assurances given by the Minister. I also accept that our C&AG has the power to examine what he likes, including whether information is properly withheld. We hope that, given the high profile of this issue, the C&AG has already pencilled in a regular look at the Home Office's six-monthly reports to Parliament.
Lastly, and crucially, Amendment No. 70A lacks the formal approval mechanism by another place before the Act can be implemented. The question will be whether the rolling six-monthly reports are an adequate substitute for formal approval. That will keep the issue of costs in the spotlight. A formal approval mechanism remains the preference of these Benches, but we should accept the views of the other place on the matter.
In summary, Amendment No. 70A falls short of the ideals that underpinned our Amendment No. 70, but we should recognise that we have achieved as much progress towards the principles of openness and transparency as the Government are prepared to allow. On that basis, we did not table our own Motion, and we do not oppose the Government's Motion.
My Lords, I associate myself with everything that the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, has said.
My Lords, it is a notable achievement by the House that we have made this much progress. As a result of our amendment being sent to the other place, there was a long and major debate there on the issue of costs, which had not happened before. A great deal of scepticism was expressed, not least from the government Benches, about the Government's cost estimates. We have drawn the attention of the other place to the flaws in the Government's presentation of costs, and that is important.
As my noble friend said, it is a disadvantage that the Government's amendment would not stop them proceeding, even if the costs grow by a substantial amount. Unlike our amendment, there is nothing in it stating that no provision of the Act shall be brought into force until the costs have been approved. None the less, if we are to get six-monthly updates—and the costs are found to be running totally out of control, as the costs of many schemes have—that will be a real discipline on the Government.
Mr Dobson was extremely rough on the Government's attempts to justify the Bill on the basis of costs, but the major shortcoming in his amendment was that it dealt only with the Home Office's costs. One of the most extraordinary arguments that the Government have presented at intervals is that it is only the Home Office costs that matter and that, after all, other departments will decide in due course whether the whole thing is a good idea and will undertake a cost-benefit analysis before joining the scheme. I think that at one point in a debate in the other place the Minister rather plaintively said that there did not seem to be much willingness by the other government departments to help to meet the Home Office costs.
None the less, the Government repeatedly identify the total benefits, which arise only if the other departments come on board. It is unrealistic to say that the only costs that matter are the Home Office costs. If the Government are to get the benefits that they say they will get, it is vital that other departments come on board. Therefore, when the six-monthly reports are brought before it, Parliament will need to look very carefully at what is happening so far as concerns the other government departments.
However, it is a notable achievement by this House to have got the other place to look at these important issues and to make the Government accept an amendment which will allow a closer examination of costs than has been permitted in almost any other major project involving IT that I can remember being undertaken by any government in the past.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, is absolutely right to praise the work that this House did on the Bill in relation to costs. There was a great deal of criticism from the Front Bench that this House should spend so much time drawing attention to the possibility that the costs being estimated would greatly overrun. Of course, like other noble Lords, I am extremely pleased that on this occasion the House of Commons has taken some note of what your Lordships have said. It almost makes one believe that attending this House and speaking in it is worthwhile. That is encouraging.
However, I am a little concerned that this issue will be only about costs and not about benefits. I am also very concerned that expenditure on the scheme is already going ahead—and going ahead apace so far as I can see. I should like to know exactly what decent mechanism will be put in operation to ensure that the costs do not go overboard and that the project can be stopped at any time when it seems that the benefits far outweigh any costs. That is essential in handling public money.
I shall illustrate the point briefly. When I was chairman of the Finance and General Purposes Committee in the county borough of Reading, the borough treasurer said, "We must have a computer. In fact, we must have more than one computer". I said, "What benefits are we going to get from this?" "Oh", he said, "we'll save a lot of money and we shall be able to reduce a lot of staff". I said to him, "You're going to have to prove that". I added, "We will agree to this as a committee provided that you bring to us every month a full cost-benefit analysis. We want to know how much money the borough council is going to save and how many staff have been reduced". So long as I remained chairman of the Finance and General Purposes Committee, the monthly reports came forward, but unfortunately I believe that eventually they stopped.
It is essential that there is proper control over public expenditure for particular purposes; otherwise the costs will run away, as we have seen in so many instances, including in the cases of the National Health Service and Child Support Agency computer systems. We can see exactly how they get out of hand and no one can stop them. I hope that the noble Baroness will take that on board and assure me that some mechanism will be in place to stop the Gadarene rush in the expenditure of public money.
My Lords, I spoke and voted for your Lordships' amendment when it was previously before the House. I remain sceptical about the costs, whether estimated by the London School of Economics or by the Government. Taking an estimate of costs over 10 years and dividing by 10 to arrive at an annual cost is, to put it mildly in such a complex area as IT management, a little difficult to comprehend.
The amendment now before the House is called the Dobson amendment as it was proposed, in another place, by my right honourable friend Frank Dobson. Unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, I did not go into the Chamber to hear him speak, but I have read what he said in considerable detail. He thought that, if the costs turned out as the Minister has estimated, it would be the greatest miracle he has ever seen. He was also very harsh on IT management companies which he described as the greatest intergalactic rip-off merchants of all time. That is a little unfair because many other people rip off governments; many consultants have done so and I am sure will continue to do so. However, in this case the Opposition seemed to be accepting, as the noble Baroness said, that Frank Dobson was over optimistic—"naive" is another word. The purpose of his amendment is that at the end of six months, if there are, as he puts it, huge increases taking place, it will not be too late for us to say, "Stop". Anyone who has considered these matters in another place will know that for the House of Commons to say "Stop" to a government is, to put it mildly, unlikely.
The plain fact is that the only people who, I hope, will take note of the amendment are those in the Treasury who seem to have been very silent in recent times about this. At least they will have some vague understanding about the costs. It would be nice if my noble friend, in whom I have enormous trust, were to accept that any of these costs, given the assumptions that have to be made, whether up to six months or as they were previously, are estimates and highly speculative estimates at the best of times. I would not like to make a forecast of costs of anything next year, let alone over a 10-year period. I see her smile, so perhaps she will accept what I am saying. To take a cost over 10 years of anything, especially in the area of IT, is, to put it mildly, given the experience that all governments have had over a long time, difficult. I have no doubt that if the noble Baroness were sitting on this side of the House, she would be introducing an identity card Bill and our side would be vigorously opposing it—that is a fact of life.
I voted for the Lords' amendment even though, as I said at the time, I did not like the amendment but I wanted to give the other place a chance to rethink. It has "rethunk"—if that is a word—and has come up with the Dobson Amendment No. 70A in lieu. The words, "every six months" will not help in any way. In practice, the Bill will go ahead with excessive costs, as there will inevitably be, although there is a remote possibility—I hope it is not remote—that some people in the Treasury will take note of them. The noble Baroness is quite right to say that we should not take this further and I am happy to go along with that.
My Lords, I ought to briefly point out two problems with Commons Amendment No. 70A which we are about to accept. First, subsection (3) allows huge capacity for creative accounting, because the cost of issuing passports is not there. It would therefore be easy to offload a lot of the costs of issuing ID cards on to the issuing of passports. Secondly, in order to deliver the stated benefits in the Bill, you have to integrate or interface with a lot of other government systems. Again, it would be possible to put those integration costs into another budget so that they do not appear in these figures. This is a warning to people who scrutinise these things in future: look out for that. Try to look at some of the other things.
Lastly, in subsection (4), it would easy to hide any difficulties by citing commercial confidentiality. I hope that the secrecy over the government Gateway reviews which have so far taken place will not extend into this area as well; otherwise the worst things are hidden from us, and will continue to be hidden.
My Lords, I am grateful for the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, and indications given by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury. I am pleased that we have been able to give a modicum of pleasure to the noble Lords, Lord Crickhowell and Lord Stoddart of Swindon. Even my noble friend Lord Barnett has had a little pleasure—I see him smiling—as has the noble Earl, Lord Erroll.
We now have a mechanism where costs can be looked on a six-month rolling basis. We see that there are advantages, and I can reassure my noble friend Lord Barnett that the Treasury has lost none of its edge.
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do not insist on its Amendment No. 3 and do agree to Amendment No. 3A proposed by the Commons in lieu thereof.
Lords Amendment No. 3 inserted into Clause 1(3)(b) the proposition that the methods by which registrable facts are recorded and stored must be secure and reliable. We opposed this on Report, on the grounds that it was unnecessary. The Secretary of State must do his utmost to ensure the security and reliability of information recorded and stored on the register, following from his general public law duty, as well as from enactments such as the Data Protection Act. There is no need to state it in this Bill.
However, if an amendment of this nature was to be made, we did not think that this one was at the right place in the clause. It is in a subsection which relates to the provision of information from the register, not the storage of information on it. During consideration of this House's amendment in another place, government Amendment No. 3A was substituted. This clarifies that the record of registrable facts to be used for identification and verification must be secure and reliable. With respect, it captures the desired effect of your Lordships' amendment, and was accepted in the other place without a Division. I therefore invite the House to accept it.
Moved, That this House do not insist on its Amendment No. 3 and do agree to Amendment No. 3A proposed by the Common in lieu thereof.—(Baroness Scotland of Asthal.)
My Lords, my amendment has been replaced by the words shown on the paper. I am happy to accept the revised wording, which achieves precisely the purpose intended by my own amendment.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
4 Clause 1, page 2, line 3, leave out "securing the efficient and effective provision of" and insert "preventing illegal or fraudulent access to"
The Commons disagree to this amendment for the following reason:
4A Because the Commons do not consider it appropriate to limit, as provided for by the amendment, the circumstances in which something is to be regarded as necessary in the public interest
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do not insist on its Amendment 4, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason No. 4A.
Amendment No. 4 limited the public interest test as defined in Clause 1(4), in so far as public services go to preventing illegal or fraudulent access to public services. This would potentially limit the benefits to the public from the introduction of identity cards supported by a national identity register. I hope that all noble Lords, on all sides of the House, would want to see the identity card scheme used to help make the delivery of public services better, not just as a way of combating fraud.
It is surely in everyone's interest to help deliver public services more efficiently and effectively. That must be in the interests of the public, both as taxpayers and as users of services. Inefficiency in public services is of no benefit to anyone—apart perhaps from the fraudster.
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. Of course combating fraud will be one of the purposes of the identity cards scheme—and a very important one—but not the only one.
We believe that the public will want the introduction of identity cards to be used as a way of helping public services deliver quicker and better services. This, for example, could include the future development of services over the internet. We see real advantages in being able to fill in one form instead of many. We would go further and say that it would be possible to create a single "one-stop" procedure for updating addresses on government department records, so that when someone moves house and notifies the new address to the National Identity Register that new address is notified onwards to the departments dealing with national insurance, pensions, driving licences and so on. That would make life easier for the citizen and would ensure that other departments did not continue to hold out-of-date and inaccurate records.
Such a scheme would be designed to enable more efficient and effective delivery of public services and to help the citizen. It would be hard to argue that it was needed just as a fraud prevention measure, which is what Amendment No. 4 would suggest. For any requirement to use identity cards to access public services there are already provisions and safeguards at Clauses 15 and 16 and it could not be a requirement to produce an identity card to access free public services or to claim any state benefits until we move to compulsion when everyone would have an identity card.
So, by restricting the statutory purposes of the scheme only to combating illegal or fraudulent access to public services, we would be defining the card scheme far too narrowly and would risk restricting the usefulness of the identity cards scheme to the public, which, after all, is one of the key purposes of the identity cards scheme.
We believe that we should not prevent the identity cards scheme being used as a way of helping to deliver better public services. It is not just a question of combating fraudulent use of public services, we also should be using the identity cards scheme to help to transform services.
When these amendments were considered in the other place, Amendment No. 4 was rejected without a Division. I invite this House to do the same, as it is clearly not in the public interest to make this change.
Moved, That this House do not insist on its Amendment No. 4, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason No. 4A.—(Baroness Scotland of Asthal.)
My Lords, again for clarity I say at the beginning that we do not oppose Motion C in the name of the Minister. She refers to the treatment of this amendment in another place and another place's decision. Of course the treatment of it demonstrates the limitation allowed in another place for consideration of Lords' amendments. The only direct reference to this amendment lies in its demise:
"Lords Amendment No. 4 disagreed to".—[Hansard, Commons, 13/2/06; col. 1244.]
It was not even mentioned by Mr Speaker when he called that particular group on costs to be debated. We are told that the Commons disagreed to the amendment because they,
"do not consider it appropriate to limit, as provided for by the amendment, the circumstances in which something is to be regarded as necessary in the public interest".
The Minister has today argued that because ID cards are intended by the Government to assist with the better provision of public services they should be within the definition of purposes. Of course everybody is in favour of the better and more efficient delivery of public services. Who could be against that? The question is how one does that, what the best approaches are and whether the concoction of this bureaucratic nightmare of the ID register will be the best way forward.
When I considered the appropriate way to respond to the Government's Motion, I had it very firmly in my mind that at this stage in the parliamentary proceedings it was not right to re-open a Second Reading-type of debate on matters of principle. We debated the matter fully at Second Reading, in Committee and on Report and, like other amendments we are to reach shortly, I feel that we would not achieve any further progress if we continued with what would be very complex debates today. This is an occasion for debate on clear matters of issue rather than complex issues that underlie the Bill's purposes.
On that basis, despite the very cavalier treatment of my amendment in another place, by which, of course, I am not wounded to the quick—I accept an intervention from the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock.
My Lords, did the noble Baroness hear my noble friend explain that one of the great advantages of what is proposed is that when you intimate a change of your circumstances to the national identity register, it is envisaged that that will enable other departments to be informed of that change in circumstances? That will be a substantial benefit for everyone, but especially for old people, who will not have to go through the tedious job of informing every department. It will automatically be done. Is that not one of many, many advantages of the national identity card scheme, which is why it is overwhelmingly supported by a large majority of people in this country?
My Lords, the noble Lord paints a utopia which did not exist in the 16th century, either—I am thinking of Sir Thomas More. First, as for the great majority of people, the most recent polls in November and just last week showed that the greatest majority of people who support identity cards is 52 per cent. The noble Lord's definition of the great majority does not quite coincide with mine.
As for older people, some may indeed find it convenient. I must say that the only letters that I have received from people aged over 70, including the latest today, have asked me fervently to persuade the Government to exclude those over 70. I shall be delighted to forward the letter that I received only today to the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes. I shall try to make sure that I do so; he will remind me if I forget.
The noble Lord repeats the arguments made by the Minister about the convenience of the scheme. In particular, he refers to the joy that we will have in notifying the national identity register when we change addresses. I know that the noble Lord was unable to be with us for all our debates—I am sure that he attended as much as he could—but we had significant debate about the fact that the Government have left to themselves an enabling power in this skeleton Bill to force us to provide our change of address on each and every occasion.
The Minister said that the Government hoped or intended only to require us to notify a change of address when we had lived there for more than three months. Well, "Whoopee!", is all I can say. That means that I would have to think back to every place I have lived during my 58 years and when I lived there, to notify all that and then to notify changes of address thereafter after three months. Under later provisions in the Bill, you would then face a civil penalty—after all, if you are paying money, that is a fine—if you forgot to notify your change of address.
The noble Lord has enabled me to remind the House again of the problems of the system, but he does so unnecessarily because, on this one, I did intend to go quietly.
My Lords, this is not a time for Second Reading speeches, but, having heard the sales patter from both the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, I just want to say that that was greatly discussed and we know from previous debates that all those aims can equally effectively be achieved with what is currently available. You do not need the ID card for that; read our previous debates.
My Lords, briefly, I support what the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, said. It is a pity that the amendment was not accepted, but there we are; that is the way of the world and one must accept it.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
16 Clause 5, page 4, line 44, leave out "must" and insert "may, if the individual so chooses,"
The Commons disagree to this amendment for the following reason—
16A Because the Commons consider it appropriate that a person applying for a designated document be required at the same time to apply to be entered in the Register and to have an ID Card issued to him
22 Clause 8, page 7, line 42, leave out "must" and insert "may, if the individual so chooses,"
The Commons disagree to this amendment for the following reason—
22A Because the Commons consider it appropriate that a person applying for a designated document be required at the same time to apply to be entered in the Register and to have an ID Card issued to him.3.45 pm
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do not insist on its Amendments Nos. 16 and 22, to which the Commons have disagreed for their reasons 16A and 22A.
This House has behaved in such an exemplary way so far on Motions A, B and C that I am confident that that pattern will be followed on this Motion as well, especially bearing in mind that the other place has expressed itself so clearly on two occasions. In that hope and expectation, I shall now deal with the Motion.
We discussed these amendments at some length on Report on
Although Amendments Nos. 16 and 22 rest on changing a "must" to a "may", which seems a very small change, they would undermine the whole basis of the current identity cards proposal, and for that reason the Government, with the support of the elected House, will continue to resist them strongly. The amendments would make registration and the issue of an identity card an optional extra for anyone applying for a designated document such as a British passport or residence permit for foreign nationals. We have always been clear that the identity cards scheme is being designed and is eventually intended to become a compulsory scheme for all United Kingdom residents and that, in the second phase of the scheme, it will be a requirement to register, with a civil financial penalty regime for failure to do so.
We have also always been equally clear that linking identity cards to the issue of designated documents is a central part of the scheme in the first phase. This will enable a sensible phased introduction of identity cards. Once passports and residence permits are designated, British nationals resident in the United Kingdom who renew or apply for their passports and foreign nationals who renew or apply for their residence permits will be entered on the national identity register and issued with cards that will serve as ID cards. This will provide advantages for the individual. We are already planning to introduce fingerprint biometric passports that will require all applicants to attend a local enrolment centre. Using this self-same process to enrol the additional iris biometric for the identity cards scheme, rather than expecting people to come back later when the second compulsory phase of the identity cards scheme is introduced, as it is clearly intended to be, makes simple common sense.
We are starting today to phase in the issue of e-passports incorporating a facial image biometric. This will be the first-generation biometric passport, but once we have moved on to the next phase—that is, biometric passports that include facial image and fingerprint biometrics—anyone applying for a passport will have to go through the same application process that they have to go through for an identity card, and their personal details and biometrics will be recorded on a central database, albeit a passport database, rather than the national identity register. So merging the two processes will add the statutory safeguards, such as the creation of a national identity scheme commissioner, provided by this Bill.
Later this year, we will start to interview all adult first-time passport applicants in order to confirm their identity. This, of course, will require a personal visit to a local office, just as enrolling biometrics for the identity card will. The United Kingdom Passport Service is already establishing a network of new local offices to undertake these interviews. Not only will people therefore have to go through more or less the same procedure to obtain a passport as they do for an identity card but, by linking the issue of identity cards and passports, we will provide a more convenient and secure identity document that can be used to prove identity in a wide variety of situations domestically as well as being a travel document. In practice, the process of obtaining a passport and that of obtaining an identity card will be combined in the future. Issuing the two documents as a package will be just as convenient and makes much more sense than applying for just a biometric passport.
What does it give society as a whole? It will mean that we will be able to start using the identity cards scheme and the national identity register for the purposes set out in Clause 1; that is, to improve identification where it is in the public interest—national security, prevention and detection of crime, enforcement of immigration controls and controls on illegal working—as well as more efficient and effective delivery of public services. If we provide an opt out, we put all those benefits at risk and would certainly delay them.
Focusing on passports and residence permits means that we can enrol on the register a manageable number of people each year who will, in any event, be going through the process of obtaining an existing identity document. That will minimise any uncertainties that would otherwise apply to rolling out the identity cards scheme and so will reduce costs, something in which your Lordships have expressed a real interest throughout our debates.
The benefits of the identity cards scheme will grow steadily as more people obtain their cards. Linking identity cards to the issue or renewal of a document such as a passport, which around 80 per cent of the population already holds, means that there will be a manageable roll out of the identity cards scheme. That must surely be in the public interest. If those who say that they are concerned about the costs of the scheme really want to avoid excessive costs, they must accept the logic of combining the process for issuing identity cards with passports and with immigration documents.
I confirm again that the Government's intention is to designate British passports issued to United Kingdom residents aged 16 or over, so that an identity card must be issued alongside a passport as a "package". But, secondly, it is intended to designate residence permits and other immigration documents issued to foreign nationals coming to reside in the United Kingdom for more than three months: the residence permit would also become valid as an identity card. If we agree to these amendments, foreign nationals applying to stay in the United Kingdom could also opt out of the need to be registered and to have their biometrics held on the national identity register. As an immigration control measure it is essential that we do not allow people to opt out in that way.
In addition to designated documents we also intend to issue stand-alone identity cards on a voluntary basis, but these would be issued under Clause 8 and would not require the use of the designation power in Clause 4. As we have always made clear, the legislation should be flexible enough to allow for the possibility of designation of other official documents in the future. However, I can confirm again that we have no current plans to designate any documents other than passports and immigration documents.
There are four very clear "common-sense" reasons why these amendments should be rejected—costs, benefits, convenience and security. First, the Government want the identity cards scheme to provide the greatest benefits at the lowest cost to the taxpayer. If we accept these amendments, the cost of establishing the scheme would be bound to rise because of the greater complexity of handling an optional service where some people could opt out of having an identity card when obtaining a passport. Costs would also rise because there would be greater uncertainty as to the likely volumes of identity card applications, at least in the initial phase, which could have an impact on the unit cost and so the fee level for identity cards.
Secondly, there would also be an impact on the benefits of the identity card scheme. If there is doubt over the speed of the roll-out of the identity cards, inevitably that will result in a slowdown in the wider benefits being achieved. That would be the case whether it concerned combating illegal immigration or improving the effectiveness of public services.
Thirdly, there is the question of convenience to the public. It really does not make sense to issue a biometric passport without the accompanying identity card. The process of enrolling biometrics and checking identity for both documents will be virtually identical, so there would be very little difference in the fee that would apply to both documents. On its own, the passport will continue to be of value as a travel document, but little more, whereas the identity card will be used widely as a quick, easy and secure way of proving identity.
Fourthly, there is the question of security. We would be offering an open goal to fraudsters, criminals or to immigration offenders if we said that they could simply choose to avoid being included in the national identity register when they applied for a passport or an immigration document. I know that that cannot be what any of your Lordships would wish. It would not make sense for us to design a system that was more expensive, produced fewer benefits, was less convenient to the individual and put security at risk. On the grounds of common sense alone, we believe that these amendments must be rejected.
I hope that I have demonstrated that it is essential for us to establish a clear and definite link between an application for a designated document such as a passport and an entry on to the national identity register, and that this has always been our clearly stated policy. Indeed, once we move on to the introduction of passports with fingerprint biometrics, the process for obtaining a passport and an identity card will be so similar as to make the need to combine the two processes quite obvious. Further, there would of course be no possibility of designating any document until the identity card scheme is introduced, while the designation order itself will need to set out the exact details of the proposed class of document, with any exceptions, and will need to specify the timetable for designation. Each designation order brought forward under Clause 4 will need to be approved by both Houses of Parliament under the affirmative resolution procedure. So this is not something that could be done without an opportunity for proper debate and scrutiny.
Your Lordships' House has made its views known once to the other place. That was absolutely right and proper. However, there is now an overwhelming case for this House to accept the view of the elected House and not to insist on these amendments any further. I therefore move that your Lordships' House should not insist on Amendments Nos. 16 and 22 and should accept the view expressed twice in the other place for the reasons I have outlined.
My Lords, I beg to move Amendment D1 as an amendment to Motion D. On
It is not often that it is left to the Opposition to ensure that a government honour their own election pledge, but that is what we will be doing in this House if we insist on our amendment today. Page 52 of the 111-page manifesto on which the Labour Government were elected last year states:
"We will introduce ID cards, including biometric data like fingerprints, backed up by a national register and rolling out initially on a voluntary basis as people renew their passports".
On the last occasion, although I must confess not this time, the noble Baroness endeavoured to argue that black was white and that,
"we should not press our amendment because to do so would significantly contravene the clear intention of the people of this country who entrusted the organisation of these matters to this Government".—[Hansard, 23/1/06; col. 975.]
I shall say a little about the manifesto pledge in a moment.
My Lords, I am coming to it, as the bishop said. "Voluntary" means "voluntary"; "must" means "must"—that is rolling out the logic. To make matters abundantly clear, the manifesto talks specifically of introducing ID cards on a voluntary basis as people renew their passports. The Bill, however, via designation, which the Government have made absolutely plain they intend to implement vis-à-vis passports as soon as practical, would mean that ID cards would be rolled out initially on a compulsory basis as people renewed their passports. You could not renew them unless you had an ID card—it is as simple as that. Last time, the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, made this point:
"The indirect compulsion denies me the right to travel if I apply only for a passport that I do want, but not for an identity card that I do not want".—[Hansard, 23/1/06; col. 974.]
As the Home Affairs Committee said about ID cards:
"For most people, to travel abroad and to drive are fundamentals. It cannot be argued that these would be given up voluntarily. To describe the first phase of the Government's proposals as 'voluntary' stretches the English language to breaking point".
Even John Denham, chairman of the committee and a strong supporter of ID cards, owned up to that when the Commons debated this amendment on
It ill behoves this place in particular to add to public disconnectedness from politics in this country—see the Power Commission report last week—to deny what is clear in the manifesto. It was Humpty Dumpty, was it not, who said:
"When I use a word . . . it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less".
And we all know what happened to Humpty Dumpty.
Quite apart from this, we on this side of the House also believe that the ID cards scheme, on merits, needs to be voluntary unless, of course, primary legislation is later introduced to make it compulsory—a principle that the Government conceded in the Commons with regard to Clause 6.
It is no longer clear to me just what benefits the compulsory scheme would bestow, just as it has never been clear what it is likely to cost. That, too, points to a voluntary card. As the Bill has progressed, the case for it has become less clear. We do not hear much about the impact on terrorism these days. Stella Rimington and my noble friend Lord Carlile of Berriew may have something to do with that. Indeed, some police seem to be having second thoughts, especially in terms of the potential effects on already weak relations with the public, particularly among the minority communities.
As for crime, not much about that was heard during the Commons debate on our amendment, nor has been heard today. Social security fraud is still about falsifying one's circumstances in more than 90 per cent of cases. That leaves immigration, where different documentation prevails, and migrant workers, where there will be some modest assistance.
Even the Prime Minister, defending at length his record on civil liberties in the Observer on
"On ID cards, there is a host of arguments, irrespective of security, why their time has come. Most people already have a range of different cards, for workplace, bank or leisure. And, contrary to what is said, it will not be an offence not to carry one".
There was nothing about compulsion or, indeed, much else. All the cards I carry I will still have to carry if I have an ID card.
When I spoke at the Westminster Foundation conference on
"People doubt whether cards will materially assist in the war on terror and clearly think that a national scheme will be shot full of holes. Yet a small majority, 52 per cent, persist in saying that the cards should be brought in. They appear not to have noticed the contradiction between their long-standing predilection for cards and their up-to-date assessment of what having the cards will actually mean".
For example, 80 per cent of them believe in the corruptibility of the cards and 75 per cent in the likely substantial cost hike. In effect, as happened in New South Wales, the more the public get to learn and understand about compulsory cards, the less they like them. I will wager the Minister that, in a month or two, a poll will show more people agin the cards than for them. We will talk afterwards.
Another reason for keeping the scheme voluntary is that there is still so much muddle, even at ministerial level. For example, Charles Clarke said in the Commons in the debate on
"Individuals . . . will not give more information to the state than they do at present. That is an important point to grasp".—[Hansard, Commons, 13/2/06; col. 1177.]
That point has been repeatedly made and has been made in this House. But what he has not grasped is that all the audit trail data—all the validation information provided by an applicant or collected from an applicant by the registrar to verify the facts on the register, plus the security information, plus a complete set of personal reference numbers—will be recorded on every one of us. That is not information currently required for a passport, nor is the requirement in Clause 1 of the Bill where we have to give the address, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, said a few minutes ago, of every place we have ever resided, whether in the UK or elsewhere and how long we resided there. That is not required for passports or for any of the other documentation referred to by the Home Secretary in the Commons.
I also note that the international civil aviation organisations all call for two digitised biometrics and a picture, whereas we are going for 13. Take the issue of driving licences, to which the noble Baroness referred today. Under Clause 4 of the Bill, they could be designated, which would mean that we would have to have ID cards when we renewed our licences. In the
"We haven't yet, at this point, taken a decision whether or not . . . the criminal record disclosure process should become part of the designated document process, and that is also true of the driving licence".
That is a very big difference between two Ministers of the realm responsible for this ID card scheme on crucial policy.
We could also take the vexed issue of access to the ID register by foreign persons and governments. One of his own Back Benchers pointedly asked the Home Secretary on
"Prevention and detection of crime", authorises the provision of information on the register if it is provided for any of the purposes specified in Section 17 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. That, as I have said before on this Bill, drives a coach and horses through protection of our ID card data, because it expressly entitles any foreign individual or authority access to the ID—
My Lords, given the comments that the noble Lord has just made in relation to the assertions made in the other place by my right honourable friend, it is only right that I should seek to correct what is, I am sure, a totally inadvertent misunderstanding of the position. The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, is right: information could be provided from the register to overseas law enforcement agencies in relation to criminal proceedings and investigations in the circumstances set out in Clause 20. As I am sure noble Lords will remember, that parallels the existing powers in Sections 17 and 18 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. However, the power is subject to safeguards. The audit trail information in paragraph 9 of Schedule 1 can be provided only for the prevention and detection of serious crime. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary said that other countries and their intelligence services will not have access to the register or to the database; that is not the way the system will operate. That is correct, and perhaps the noble Lord was not totally aware that it was the position. I wanted to give him the opportunity to understand better how the system works.
My Lords, I forewarned the Minister's office that I was going to make that point, and she has responded to it. However, I ask the House to consider Hansard from
"Mr. Hollobone: What rights would other countries have to access the UK identity cards register if we hold information about their citizens?
Mr. Clarke: None".—[Hansard, Commons, 13/2/06; col. 1177.]
That is wrong. Through the provisions of Section 17 of the 2001 Act and Clause 20 of this Bill, they will have rights to access not the audit trail data, but all the other information on the register, which, as I have endeavoured to indicate to the House, is very widespread. I point this out not to score points, but to make the general argument that this is a thoroughly ill thought-out measure, and I do not retract that for a second.
Let me be clear. If this Bill really was just about identity cards, many of us would have few misgivings, if any. If the cards were voluntary, the same would be true. But we have here a Bill that is compulsory; that would require 40 million-plus citizens to be interviewed for the purposes of taking out an ID card, though I accept that if they were getting a passport at the same time they would make only one trip; that gives the Home Secretary 61 order-making powers that carry heavy penalties for citizen failures; and, above all, that has attached to it a major database of our private information, some of it highly personal. Tony McNulty, Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality, said in the same debate in the Commons on
"We have always said that the most important element of the programme was the database that stands behind the card".—[Hansard, Commons, 13/2/06; col. 1145.]
Too true—and too bad.
Apart from the specifics of ID cards, and of making them effectively compulsory, there remains the intangible but vital issue of how they could affect our civic harmony in the long term. In a hyper-technical age, it is too easy to be blinded by the technology and to assume that if it is there it must be used and that it can do what it cannot. It is still the imponderables that matter most to most people—hope, trust, loyalty—elusive as they are to auditing and accountability, the nostrums of our age. Probably half of those who have written to me on this subject, none of whom has been a supporter of our uniquely centralised and data-laden compulsory cards, have been most concerned about the impact of an ever more intrusive, all-knowing state on the culture of their lives, and of the quality and feel of the society of which we are all part.
Ultimately security, too, depends on trust. Without broad trust there is no allegiance, and without allegiance the police and security services can never be adequately supported, as Northern Ireland surely showed. Indeed, it is the disconnectedness between police and public that is so destructive of enforcement of the law. Without a good flow of informal intelligence, the main fruit of public support for law and order, no amount of technology, CCTV cameras, face scanners, car trackers or indeed audit trails will make up for it.
We are also anxious that this huge, impersonal scheme could create an insidious chemistry between the citizen and the state, wholly counterproductive to that which we all seek. That could in part derive from the compulsory collection of audit trail personal data under paragraph 9 of Schedule 1, just in case it might become useful. "Just in case" is not a proper basis on which a civilised state should intrude on the privacy of its citizens, which is why the Information Commissioner, who was put there by this Parliament for a purpose, made his strong statement last October warning us of "unwarranted and intrusive" powers and of sleepwalking into the snooping state via what David Davis in the other place called "a culture of complacency".
I used to take great pride in the light rein cast upon us by the state in this country; that works much the best. This amendment will buttress good sense and wise government. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords opposite who have a great interest in this amendment. However, I thought it might be helpful to the House if I put one or two issues on the record before the debate widened out. I make it clear that on this occasion I support the Motion in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, and oppose the Government's Motion. That is the only time today when I shall oppose a government Motion.
I support every argument that the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, has made. It would not be right to take the House's time in repeating those arguments. I will confine myself to addressing another matter of parliamentary procedure to which the Minister and one or two of her colleagues have referred in previous debates on the Bill and, more recently, in their contributions to national newspapers. The Minister has said that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, is in breach of the Salisbury convention. Let me meet that accusation head on. I say very firmly that this House should not entertain that view. The Salisbury convention, to which we continue to subscribe, is an agreement between the Labour and Conservative Parties in this House that neither party would, when in opposition, vote at Second Reading against legislation that was set out in the governing party's manifesto or seek a wrecking amendment to it. Many argue that the Salisbury convention may have evolved with time, and certainly with the change to this House in 1999, but the formulation I have given was the maximalist one. To be as fair as possible to the Government I will, for the sake of this argument, apply that today.
What did the Labour manifesto say on ID cards? The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, quoted the precise words. It states:
"We will introduce ID cards, including biometric data like fingerprints, backed up by a national register and rolling out initially on a voluntary basis as people renew their passports".
Nothing in this amendment obstructs that manifesto commitment. The Salisbury convention means that this House could not block a genuinely voluntary Bill. But that is not what this amendment does. If this amendment is passed, the Government can still introduce identity cards. They can still back them up with a national register. They can still roll them out on a voluntary basis as people renew their passports. Indeed, responding to a comment made by the Minister in another place, Mr Burnham, on the radio this morning, I would say that they can still roll them out incrementally—that is still perfectly possible. There is nothing in this amendment against the Salisbury doctrine, but there is a great deal in it for the voluntary approach promised in Labour's manifesto. This House is surely entitled to stick to its guns on a matter which the Constitution Committee of this House said represents a fundamental change in the relationship between state and a people, and where that fundamental change was not set out in the manifesto.
Ministers have said, including the noble Baroness at other stages of the Bill, that the fact that Ministers have made speeches about a compulsory scheme is sufficient to bring that part of the manifesto within the Salisbury convention, and that we on the Conservative Benches should therefore accept the Government's proposals for compulsion by stealth. We believe that is a poor argument by the noble Baroness's extremely high standards, but that it is certainly poor by anyone's standards. Since when, one might ask, does a ministerial interview or a past failed Bill bind this House? Ministers had a chance to state clearly and openly in the manifesto that if elected they would force us all to be registered and to pay for an ID card with our passport before being given the freedom to go abroad for work, for a holiday, or for whatever reason—but they did not take that opportunity. That was their choice. Having made that choice, they should not present legislation that is not on a voluntary basis but on the basis of compulsion, call on the Salisbury convention, and expect those of us on these Benches to cave in. That is not the way that Parliament has ever worked; and I hope that it will never work that way.
Let us consider for just a moment what the consequences might be in the very dim and distant future if one accepted today that things should be allowed to work in that way. What if a government deliberately left out of a manifesto any mention of plans that Ministers had in mind—but about which they did not wish to put off or deter the voters? If they did so and were then allowed to claim the protection of the Salisbury convention because Ministers had made speeches on the matter, it would be an incentive and a reward for being economical with the truth. Surely, none of us would want that as part of our system of government. That is for future consideration, but it could be a consequence of today accepting any argument that we on these Benches should be bound on this Motion by the Salisbury convention.
Let us hear no more from any quarter, either in Parliament or in newspaper articles, about any so-called breach of the Salisbury convention by these Benches. There is none in this case; and there will be none. I firmly support the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury.
My Lords, in the past six months this House has debated a series of Bills dealing with security and identity. It would be impossible to have followed those debates without being impressed by them and without learning from them, and I for one have learnt a great deal. One does not have to agree with an argument to see its merit, and I have come to understand the force with which Members on both sides are committed to a point of view with which I simply do not agree; but I respect those contrary views and I have learnt a lot from them.
As time has passed, two things have become clear. First, step by step, the Government are getting their legislation through and the public's will is prevailing. Democracy and common sense are winning the day, albeit slowly. There will be those, and there have been those today, who say that public support for identity cards has fallen; but let us look at the facts. In the Daily Telegraph in February, YouGov, in a poll that caused such enormous excitement on the Liberal Democrat Benches, showed a lead of 52 per cent in favour of ID cards compared to 37 per cent against. That is still a pretty large lead as far as I am concerned.
If we look at the same pollster, in June 2005 YouGov had 45 per cent in favour and 42 per cent against. A lead of 3 per cent has expanded to a lead of 15 per cent, with the same pollster, using the same methodology, over the very six months that we have been debating these issues. If the tide has turned, it has turned with us and not in the other direction.
I have observed a second tendency. As time has passed, relationships between the Liberal Democrat and Conservative Benches have gradually become closer. Letters have been passed, jokes shared, meetings held; acquaintance has turned to friendship, which has turned in time to something approaching courting.
My Lords, has the noble Lord, Lord Gould of Brookwood, my near geographical neighbour, any comments to make about me passing notes to the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland? I am agog with developing interest.
My Lords, I welcome both the noble Baroness's introductions and her false modesty.
The relationship reached its full consummation this morning, however, when the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, who, I see, is not in his place, said in an interview that he was forming an alliance with the Liberal Democrats. The mind boggles. What will this new alliance be called? Perhaps the "Conservative and Liberal Union", a union designed to oppose measures that help our security, whatever the people say and whatever the other place decides.
Sadly, it is now impossible to tell where the Conservative Benches end and the Liberal Democrat Benches begin. The issue today is the spurious use of the concept of "voluntary", a piece of spin of the kind that I thought that most of us, including me, had given up some time ago. Despite attempts to distort the manifesto, I see it as quite plain: I will not read out the whole thing again, as it has been read out 50 times. However, it states:
"We will introduce identity cards, including biometric data like fingerprints, backed up by a national register and rolling out initially on a voluntary basis as people renew their passports".
That seems clear. Noble Lords cannot understand it, but the people would understand it. It is not a compulsory activity—when they renew their passport, they receive an identity card. It is clear and the public get it, but I am afraid that the Benches opposite do not. This attack is spurious and should be repelled. The will of the people and the elected Parliament should prevail.
These are new times with new challenges. The politics of identity demands new approaches, and the rise of identity theft and welfare fraud new solutions. We must choose between serving the people and forming alliances designed to thwart the will of the people. I know which choice I will make.
I end as I always end. Let us—this time, I am delighted to say, with the support of the Power Commission—trust the people for they will not let us down.
My Lords, I have three simple and straightforward points to make.
First, it is wholly illogical that the Government, having accepted that the scheme as a whole should not become compulsory without primary legislation, should be telling us that we should accept creeping compulsion without primary legislation. Creeping compulsion is wrong, but it is also illogical in view of the Government's decision about further primary legislation in the next year or so.
Secondly, in spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Gould, has said, not by the greatest stretch of the imagination can creeping compulsion be said to be sanctioned by the Labour Party election manifesto, which referred, as we have heard, to a scheme rolled out,
"initially on a voluntary basis as people renew their passports".
It is absurd to suggest that a person who has to travel volunteers to apply for a renewal of his passport when his old passport expires. He is required to obtain a renewal because his old passport has expired. It does not require a genius to recognise that.
Thirdly, creeping compulsion may be convenient from an administrative point of view. The Minister talked euphemistically of a manageable roll-out. Those required to register, however, will be selected on an entirely arbitrary basis. It will not depend on any rational assessment as to whom the state would like to see registered but on whose passport expires in a particular year, and on the pure chance of whose passports come up for renewal. It is impossible to see how this will help the fulfilment of any of the aims of the Government's scheme. Indeed, a lot of time and money will be wasted as a result of people requiring access to the register only to find that there is no entry for the person on whom they seek information, because that person has not come up in the lottery and has not been required to apply for a new passport. I invite the House to support these sensible amendments.
My Lords, as I think I am probably the only historian in the House, I should like to say something very briefly. I think that the Government have not recognised the extent to which the idea of a compulsory registration of citizens on a national register is a break with our national traditions. Despite what the late Lord Stratford once said, I am among those who believe that traditions are to a nation what a soul is to a man.
My Lords, in supporting my noble friend Lord Phillips, who said that this measure was ill thought through, perhaps I may remind the Minister of the written reply that I received from her last week on passports. She rightly said that, from the last quarter of this year, every new adult passport applicant—and there are about a million of those each year—will have to go for a personal interview to verify their identity. I asked the Government where the 69 new passport interviewing offices would be located. Currently there are only seven offices, so the number will increase to 69. The Government's Answer was, "We don't know; we haven't decided. We're negotiating". So within six months we are to have these new passport offices but as of last week the Government could not tell me where they were to be located.
Some 600 new officers are to be trained but that training has not even started yet. There are so many imponderables here. The Government are not only presenting us with a measure that is ill thought through but they are doing so in total unpreparedness. Everyone will need a personal interview within six months but there is no word on how that will be accomplished. It is not only ill thought through; it is also totally unacceptable.
My Lords, I have four quick points. First, as the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, said, if these things are so wonderful and convenient, everyone will want one—so what is the problem? The noble Lord, Lord Gould's, concept of voluntary sounds a bit like the Army sergeant who walked into the canteen and said, "Any musicians here?". When someone with very delicate fingers volunteered that he was, he was sent to the officers' mess to move the grand piano.
Secondly, I say to the Minister that it is splitting hairs very finely to suggest that foreign agencies may not have direct access to the database but they can get the information on the database. That is splitting hairs very finely. I am very glad to hear that they will not have direct access to the database as that would be a major security risk.
Thirdly, I presume that Motion F will be agreed to because there is no Motion suggesting that it will not be. That means that the system will be self-checking. The commissioner will be part of the department which will be checking itself. I very much disapprove of these modern systems that do not have outside checks. The commissioner should be answerable to Parliament. It is horrific that the Commons turned down that proposal. Given that it has been turned down, I think we must keep this thing voluntary. I might think otherwise if we were to have an independent commissioner who was outside the Secretary of State's power and reported directly to Parliament. I still would not be happy at all though. How can an employee criticise their own boss? It would not be good for one's career prospects.
Finally, a lot has been said about the manifesto commitment. It is extreme hypocrisy when a government use a manifesto commitment to drive a proposal through the House until it does not suit them, when they abandon the doctrine of the manifesto commitment. They cannot have it both ways. If they force through this proposal against their manifesto commitment, I think that in future they will have to drop their demand that we support a manifesto commitment without any modification. We should be permitted in future to modify manifesto commitments in the light of current thinking in the country since the last general election, and given that the Government had the support of only about one-third of the voters in the country.
My Lords, perhaps I may, from these Benches, express my support for this amendment. As many of my noble friends know, I take great exception to the idea of identity cards because, like the noble Lord, Lord Thomas—our historian—I believe that it flies in the face of the great traditions of this country. The fact that we are nation built on the common law is not without significance. The common law was built on the acceptance and understanding that we should approach power with a degree of scepticism. Unlike the rest of Europe, which had the Napoleonic code, we in Britain, including Scotland, incorporated into our system of law the idea that power can be abused and that, therefore, there should always be a burden on the state to prove things. Citizens did not have to go around proving their existence or allowing their status to be challenged. What is interesting about that is that it created the spirit of the British character and is why I believe that we never surrendered to totalitarianism in any form.
In this country we have not had sufficient debate about the implications of the Bill for the relationship between the citizen and the state. The state is there at our behest. The citizen is not there at the behest of the state. That is what is not understood by the Government, I am afraid, in creating this change, which came about unfortunately because of what the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, referred to—that those who are involved in the incredible business of new technology can become excited about it. I know that from my own field—I chair the Human Genetics Commission. It is very easy for those involved to say, "We can do this", and persuade people that because you can do something you should do it. This is one of those areas where the Government were persuaded that because this could be done technologically, it should be done. That is a serious error.
Let us look for a minute at voluntarism and compulsion. I take the view, as do others, that we are seeing compulsion introduced by the back door. I am not making the interpretation as a lawyer would, but I would easily be able to persuade a jury that my party's manifesto said that ID cards would be voluntary and that there would be legislation before they could be introduced on a compulsory basis. That is what the majority of people who read that manifesto would have taken from it.
In this new method of acquiring the card, we are seeing compulsion, because if I apply for a new passport, which I am due to in a couple of years, I will be required to have an identity card—and I do not want one. There will be no opportunity for me to say that I do not want that additional element. I happen to believe that the new, upgraded passport is a good thing. I have no objection to the improvement in a passport that contains new material, but I object to an internal passport in our country, in our nation. We should be deeply concerned about that.
By designating documents such as a passport, a driving licence or the check certificate that people have to obtain from the Criminal Records Bureau for certain jobs, the Home Office will be able to force more than 95 per cent of the population on to the national identity register. Let us not pretend that there is no compulsion and that it was not referred to in the manifesto. If I want to travel abroad, drive my car or keep my job, you can be sure that I will have no choice.
That is not the way to legislate and that is why this amendment is right and absolutely does not offend against the Salisbury convention—and it is the duty of this House, in its care for the rule of law, the common law and the traditions of our nation, to take exception to the compulsory nature of these cards.
My Lords, those who have just heard that speech and the previous speech by the noble Lord, Lord Gould, will have noted where the weight of argument lay. As always, the noble Baroness spoke with great effectiveness and she eliminated the arguments of her noble friend—although they had already been eliminated in the other place by a supporter of the Bill, his right honourable friend, Mr Denham, in the Home Affairs Select Committee. On this occasion, having taken part throughout the Committee stage, I need to say very little following the admirable speech of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, who dealt effectively with voluntarism, and the very important speech on the Salisbury convention by my noble friend Lady Anelay.
However, one other point was touched on briefly during an earlier speech—that is, the way in which the Government are rolling out this project on a manageable basis. One argument advanced by the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, was that this was all very important from a security point of view for the maintenance of law and order. If it were important for that reason, we would not have to wait for the manageable roll-out as people applied for passports over the next few years. That demolishes the argument that there is any urgency or significance in the move to this project. If the Government really believed that it was vital for security, they would not be talking about a manageable roll-out as people reapplied for passports; they would be saying that we must get on with it.
Finally, I return to the point made in another place by Mr McNulty, the Minister responsible for immigration, citizenship and nationality, when he emphasised that the most important element of the programme was the database that stands behind the card. We talk about what the public believe and whether they support this measure in terms of the possible help they think may occasionally be provided if they can present a card to identify themselves. But I think that very few of them are aware of the significance of the database, the access that will be available to it by many bodies or the fact that it provides a route to a whole range of other government databases. It is not a single database; we are providing a considerable number of doors to the whole range of government databases, and that is why this measure is of such significance.
Mr McNulty, in a rather curious comment during his speech in which he conceded the important point that there must be legislation before we move to Clauses 6 and 7, in which we now are to have legislation before we have compulsion—another great victory for this House—said:
"as we move towards flicking the switch for compulsion through primary legislation".
I repeat: flicking the switch for compulsion. He went on to say that, by then, there would be a,
"relatively small number of people who had not registered for and obtained a card".—[Hansard, Commons, 13/2/06; col. 1151.]
So we are to have legislation for a relatively small number of people—Mr McNulty said that it would probably be less than 20 per cent—and we are to have creeping compulsion for the 80 per cent who require a passport and who do not believe that the need for a passport is voluntary but compulsory. Therefore, I strongly support the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. His speech provided an overwhelming argument for this House to support his amendment, and I hope that it will do so.
My Lords, I want to pick up on a point made by the noble Lord, who I know has a distinguished background in business as well as in politics. With the complex technology that we are discussing here and the systems that will have to be put in place to support it, surely an assumed introduction date of 2009 is not a long timescale. In order to procure the correct technology at the right prices, I would argue that three years is quite a reasonable period. Perhaps, subsequently, it could be accelerated. I imagine that the Government are looking at the middle of the decade, say, 2014 or 2015, before the compulsory introduction of cards. Perhaps that could be foreshortened, depending on the success of the technology.
My Lords, the noble Lord is talking about two different things. He is right to say that we may need a certain amount of time to introduce what he describes as complex technology. Incidentally, the Government keep telling us that the technology is extremely simple and that the Passport Service is doing it anyway. The introduction of the technology is not what accounts for most of the delay but it is only when people apply for new passports, because their present passports have expired, that they will be forced down that route. It has nothing to do with a delay because it is desirable to hold things up while the technology is tested; they have chosen a route that depends entirely on the pace at which current passports expire.
My Lords, surely it could be argued that, if the introduction of the new technology comes in about 2009, one is looking for a phased introduction as well as the ability to try to get the best deals for the Government to save money through the procurement process. A phased introduction will make it much easier to manage that process. We have all seen the problems that the Government have experienced with IT in the past. If we consider the phased introduction until the middle of the next decade, that would avoid the problems of attempting to go for tens of millions of identity cards being produced in some kind of big bang around 2014 or 2015.
My Lords, I think the noble Lord is missing the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. Over and over again, we have been told that the introduction of these cards is very important for state security and, therefore, there must be some degree of urgency about it. I believe that is the point that the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, was making. If it is so urgent, why are we to have a rolling programme?
My Lords, if there are easier ways of doing it, I would be very interested to hear how the Opposition would advance that process. I know that in the past, under Michael Howard, they suggested that the introduction of identity cards could be related to driving licences. If we are trying to introduce this as quickly and as practically as possible, that process would not be helped by an amendment that undermines the basis for many years in the future of any workable system. Politically, it may be quite potent to argue that this is what one should do, but in practical terms the adoption of the amendment would not speed the introduction of the system or make it more cost efficient.
My Lords, I am not a member of the Labour Party and I am not a member of the Government. I am an individual, independent Labour Peer. I am entitled to my say, as I have been throughout the passage of this Bill. I shall not say a great deal, but I very much agree with the amendment moved so ably and comprehensively by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. Of course, I shall support it in the Division Lobby. However, I repeat—I believe it should be repeated several times by every democrat—that a national identity register and compulsory ID cards are tools, not of a democratic state, but of nasty dictators and totalitarian states. That is my main objection to it. Indeed, throughout the almost 54 years for which I was a member of the Labour Party, that was its view as well. It was frightened of compulsory identity checks and cards because it believed that they were useful to nasty dictators. Under this new Labour Government, we are increasingly finding that, rather than the state being the servant of the individual and society, the individual is becoming the servant of the state. The Government are following a dangerous road, and this Bill is part of it.
The Government's position on manifesto commitments is simply not sustainable. One day we hear that manifesto commitments are sacrosanct, as we heard when we were discussing Commons amendments to the Terrorism Bill on glorification of terrorism. The Minister informed us then that it would be wrong for the Lords to reject the Commons amendment. However, on the Health Bill we found that the Government decided that they could overrule the manifesto commitment on smoking in public places. Instead of having smoking banned in certain restaurants, pubs and private clubs, there was a total ban. On that occasion, the Government said that the manifesto commitment was not sacrosanct. Today, the Government are using their manifesto commitment as an excuse for this House to accept the Commons amendments, but the manifesto commitment has again been altered. They cannot have it both ways.
The noble Lord, Lord Gould of Brookwood, who is a great supporter and protector of the Government, wonders at the arrangement which the Tories, according to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, have made with the Liberal Democrats. That is increasingly so. It is the fault of the Government. The anti-democratic policies followed in one Bill after another by a Labour Government are forcing the Tories and Liberal Democrats together to defend freedoms, individual rights and the democratic way in which this country is governed, as it has been for many hundreds of years.
That is the lesson that the Labour Party ought to learn. They ought to look at themselves. I can say that, because I served in the Labour Party for far more years—and more effectively, from a socialist point of view—than many of those sitting on the government Benches. I wish, hope and pray that we will have a Labour Party such as the one which used to believe in individual freedom.
My Lords, that is not a very good argument: they keep returning a Labour government because of the share-out of the electorate in various constituencies. If they are claiming a mandate, they should remember that only 20 per cent of the electorate voted for them at the last election. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats combined accounted for 60 per cent as against the 37 per cent which was gained by the Labour Party at the election. So the noble Lord should think about that as well. Although the Government have a majority, they certainly do not have a mandate for this Bill and they certainly do not have a mandate for a compulsory element which they are seeking to force on this House and the country.
My Lords, I am awfully pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, spoke before me because he spoke from his heart and with a knowledge of ancient British liberties. When I heard the noble Baroness advance all the arguments of what we were going to have to do I tried to forget that I was among a lot of people whom I respect and an even larger number of people whom I like on all sides of this House. I tried to forget that I was in one of the most splendid architectural buildings in Europe, and I tried to picture the noble Baroness setting out all the things that we have got to do—the identity cards, the fingerprints, the iris scanning and the compulsory register—and I imagined her not dressed as smartly as she is now and not with the lovely face which we have all come to admire and like, but in a drab room wearing a uniform which we have all come to hate. That is when the words of what she was saying really cast a chill into my soul.
I am sorry, but I am privileged beyond peradventure to be in your Lordships' House. I care passionately about the liberties of every single one of us and every single one of her Majesty's subjects and compulsory education—sorry, identity cards.
My Lords, it is always fun to watch people laugh at your jokes and especially fun to watch them laugh when they know that you are right and they cannot think of another answer. Compulsory identity cards go so against our ancient liberties that I will support enthusiastically the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips.
My Lords, perhaps I may ask the noble Earl a question, while on the subject of ancient liberties. As he knows, I was born in Woking. When the noble Earl's family owned Woking, how much liberty would I have had in those ancient times?
My Lords, you would have had—as you would have had since Anglo-Saxon times—equality before the law. That was the great benefit of common law. I give a tiny history lesson: the reason we had a common tax was because the Anglo-Saxon kings created a united kingdom of England where the law was the same everywhere, where everybody paid tax and where there was no tax privilege. When my forebear, very unwisely, sold the whole of Woking for 5 shillings an acre and thought he had a good deal, the noble Lord would still have had the same rights in front of the law as did his forebears, for which I am proud and I hope he is proud as well.
My Lords, I am not sure how you follow that, but I shall certainly not follow the noble Earl down the Anglo-Saxon route. I would like, however, to join in the tributes to the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. I had the privilege—I mean that; it was a privilege—of serving with him on the Joint Committee on the Charities Bill. On that committee, I learnt that he goes into his arguments very carefully and puts them very eloquently and forcefully. Sometimes he is right and sometimes he is wrong. On the Charities Bill, sometimes he was right and we agreed; and sometimes he was wrong.
I think the noble Lord is wrong today. He argued very eloquently and I listened carefully to him. I do not think that he is arguing about voluntary versus compulsory. I think his argument was meant to be a demolition of the whole idea of identity cards. Day by day, sitting by sitting, in Committee he and his colleagues have been undermining the whole Bill bit by bit. When I ask people about identity cards, even those who are violently against them say, "I am against them. But if we have identity cards, there would be no sense in having them as voluntary; they must be compulsory to have any effect". They argue that very strongly.
I do find the thinking of the Liberals awfully woolly from time to time—I shall come back to that. But I can understand why they are pursuing this argument here. What I do not understand—my noble friend Lord Gould raised this—is why the Tories have joined that unholy alliance. We have former Cabinet Ministers who, if they were still in power—if I dare say so to the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, if he were still Home Secretary—would be arguing the case eloquently and powerfully for the introduction of identity cards. Former Home Secretaries, former Foreign Secretaries and, indeed, the former Prime Minister, who is here, would be pushing strongly for the introduction of identity cards.
Again and again, the Government are asked when there is a breach of security: what is being done about it? When there are terrorist acts, they are asked: what is being done about it? Those questions are asked by the Liberals and by the Tories but, when the Government bring forward measures to tackle security or terrorism, they do not get the support, in particular, of the Liberal Democrats.
Again and again, when there is social security fraud, people from the Opposition Benches say: what will be done about it? What action will be taken? When the Government bring forth legislation to deal with it, no support is forthcoming. There are many other examples that I could cite. So I hope that some Conservatives, at least, will realise that if they were in government, they would understand the argument and bring forward the kind of responsible legislation to deal with those problems that the Government propose today.
Finally, I say to my noble friend—I think I may still call her my noble friend—Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, who sat down to huge cheers from the Liberal Democrats and the Tories, that I look forward to the day when I sit here and hear her support the Government, which she is supposed to have been brought here to support.
My Lords, I happily support my Government when they are being a truly social democratic government, committed to liberty as well as the socialist ideals that I understood were the party's founding values.
My Lords, I naturally and strongly support what the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, and my noble friends on the Front Bench have said, but what has concerned me and still does is that in creating the Bill, we are creating a database. It is the database and its future implications that we all fear as a threat to liberty. I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, spoke up for England, to use an old phrase, when she said that it threatens our ancient liberties. That is what we are here to defend and it is the database and its possible use not only by this Government but by others that causes me deep anxiety. We must be very, very careful not to bring on ourselves a system that cannot but be fascist, in the end.
My Lords, I shall speak briefly against the amendment. The noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, was absolutely right to centre on the fact that this Bill is about a database. The constant appeals to our ancient past must be put into context, because technology has changed our world. Information technology is capable of manipulating databases. They exist; we are all part of them. I support this Bill because it recognises that it is better to have a proper national database that is secure and has the right safeguards than the many others all around.
If the amendment is passed, we would have a voluntary national identity register and a compulsory Passport Agency database. As I understand it, we will over time be introducing biometric passports with full biometric features, unless the new alliance of Liberals and Conservatives frustrate that intention of the Government. In creating those passports, we will create an associated database that will have information about individuals. It will have biometric information about them and information about how they proved that they were those individuals. The Passport Agency would be derelict in its duty if it did not use the modern technology available to it to mine that database to ensure that multiple passports were not issued and to ensure that the security of the passports issued was as good as possible.
In practice, the new passport database will be become indistinguishable from the national identity register. The only major difference will be the lack of safeguards that the national identity register will have. I shall oppose this amendment because I believe it is right to have a national identity register and that every passport holder should become part of it, and that it is the most secure way to the future for our citizens.
My Lords, this has been a most interesting debate. I am delighted that I gave way to my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe because he has outlined an argument that is powerful indeed. Much of the debate has, if I may respectfully say so, been predicated on a false premise. My noble friend is absolutely right; the criteria that will apply to the new biometric passports are very similar to the requirements that will apply to the ID card. I say that because it is very important for us to hold that at the forefront of our minds. When we debated this issue last, it was pointed out that passports are not, of course, voluntary in the sense that you can have one whenever you want and with whatever information on it that you provide, and it was suggested that it was therefore nonsense to say that someone could pick or choose this first stage.
We need to be clear that there are at the moment regulations and requirements governing the sort of information that one is obliged to give if one wishes to receive the benefit of a passport. It may therefore be right at this stage, just so that we consider the practicalities of it, to remind the House where the differences are. One must provide one's name, one's date and place of birth and one's address for both the national identity register and the UK database. The address held on the UK passport database is the one that is given on the application form. It is not suggested that the names and address of one's parents and their dates of birth should be provided on the proposed national identity register. At present, however, we do have to give that information if we want a passport.
Under the proposed national identity register, there will be a unique personal number. There is no such unique personal number, but the passport is a document which has a number attached to it. For ID cards, we will have to provide our national insurance number, which we do not currently give for the passport. If one looks at the remaining provisions—name and details of a countersignatory, validation information, sex, photograph, digitised signature, validity dates, employment status, and so on—the only difference is that employment status will be provided in the proposed national identity register, and not provided in the UK database. So my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe—perhaps I may finish this sentence—is right to say that the UK Passport Service will be obliged to keep that information on a database.
My Lords, who has the right, without my knowledge, to inspect an entry relating to me on the UK passport database?
My Lords, no one has that right, save and except the provisions which currently apply to security and other measures that are currently reflected for passports and the UK identity scheme. If noble Lords had their way, we would have the burden of the new system brought in by technology but we would not have the benefits. The benefits that we have put address the issues which have been properly raised by a number of my noble friends, not least my noble friend Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, who I will for ever see as one of the most fast friends that I have. But, on this issue, we do not agree—for this reason. My noble friend said, and rightly so, that she has no objection to the improvements made on biometric passports. She fears the improper use of the database.
I have to say to my noble friend that we fear it too, which is why we have put in the safeguards to make sure that there is an audit trail, a monitor and a commissioner. All those things do not currently prevail in relation to the UK passport database. We believe that we are making a step change which has to be addressed. I hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, says about the Salisbury convention. I do not agree for this reason: the Salisbury convention is not about semantics; it is about the essence of what was provided. When this matter went before the other place, the whole Bill went through and was approved in the form in which it was subsequently reintroduced. We made it plain that the Bill that would come back to this place and the other place after the election, if the electorate was so wise as to reinstate us, would be the same Bill. That is the background.
I shall remind the noble Baroness of what was said by the commission when it reviewed the whole working of the Salisbury convention. The noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, who stands in high regard in this House, said that the commission's report stated at Recommendation 7:
"The principles underlying the 'Salisbury Convention' remain valid and should be maintained. A version of the 'mandate' doctrine should continue to be observed: where the electorate has chosen a party to form a Government, the elements of that party's general election manifesto should be respected by the second chamber. More generally, the second chamber should be cautious about challenging the clearly expressed views of the House of Commons on any public policy issue. It is not possible to reduce this to a simple formula, particularly one based on manifesto commitments".
Let us be clear. We went to the electorate. We said, "We want ID cards". It will be a compulsory scheme in the long term.
The whole point of the word "initially" is that in the first place it will be. Let us be frank: people have constantly in this House made reference to primary legislation. It may have escaped your Lordships, but this is primary legislation. We are considering not secondary legislation, but primary legislation, which the Government have done well.
In relation to the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, we are as conscious of our history as any. On the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, I hope that I have reassured him that we do want a fair, just, proportionate and non-discriminatory procedure. We are doing that in a way that will enable us to introduce it incrementally, as was made clear by my noble friend Lord Macdonald. It is also the most efficacious way. On the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, we have made an incremental provision for the roll-out. The new local passport offices will start to open in October 2006. It is not yet possible to announce their precise locations as the availability of premises has yet to be finalised. However, there will be a balanced spread of offices throughout the United Kingdom in major towns and cities. Staff are being recruited and trained now and will be fully trained before the first of the offices opens in October. The programme is well under way and, it is hoped, will make full provision.
We have come to the time when I respectfully suggest that this House should give way. We have debated this again and again. From the very start it was always our intention that the roll-out of passports should be the vehicle with which we would start the process towards a compulsory scheme. There has been no duplicity about it, and no misunderstanding. I accept absolutely that noble Lords opposite wish to take advantage of a perceived infelicitous point of drafting in our manifesto, but in reality that is all it is.
It has been said that this has forced noble Lords opposite into an alliance. However, of course we are the Government and they are the Opposition; that is part of their function. But I hope that, in opposing, noble Lords will put the needs of this country first. We believe that it will inure to this country's advantage to have the procedures in place. I simply remind noble Lords that a number of practitioners in the field, not least those charged with our security provision,have made it clear that they see this as a major advantage. The present and previous Commissioners of the Metropolitan Police support it; the Association of Chief Police Officers supports it, as does the head of the Security Service, Eliza Manningham-Buller. Other supporters include Judge Jean-Louis Bruguière, France's top counter-terror investigator, who stated that identity cards will help Britain to protect itself against attacks by al-Qaeda and other sympathisers.
We are not alone among common law countries to use this. Identity cards exist in common law countries such as Cyprus, Malaysia and Singapore. Equally, national population registers or ID cards are used in countries such as Sweden, Finland and Denmark—those are hardly totalitarian states. Somehow to imply that identity cards will suddenly change our way of life or who we are as British citizens is to do a disservice to the British character.
My Lords, I am immensely grateful to the many noble Lords who have taken part in what has been a vigorous and illuminating debate. Perhaps I may first put the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Gould, at rest: the love affair between the Liberal Party and the Tory Party is extraordinarily pragmatic. He can rest assured that if and when we consider the Government are doing the right thing, we will as always support them in the Lobbies. It is as simple as that. Further to the noble Lord, Lord Gould, who was very kind in his remarks, he did say that Members on this side, particularly on my part, have engaged in a wrecking procedure on the Bill. I am sorry; I am addressing the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, not the noble Lord, Lord Gould. I refer him to the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, made at the end of the debate. He said that Members on these Benches had introduced more positive and improving changes to the Bill than anyone else in the House. Something like 65 amendments have been accepted by the Government. An equal number of them came from these Benches. There is no desire to wreck the Bill but there is a passionate desire—passion is dangerous if you are legislating—to see this as a voluntary scheme for all the reasons that have been enunciated in opening the debate and have been reinforced by Members of this House contributing to it.
The amount of information to be part of the database which is behind this ID card scheme takes 135 pages of legislation to describe—three and a half pages of Schedule 1. It goes considerably further than anything required by the Passport Office or any other department of state. It is the database, particularly the audit trail, that we object to so strongly. We would accept a simple, straightforward ID card shorn of this immense database, but not otherwise.
We do not believe that this is a minor matter. In accordance with the Salisbury convention and the noble Baroness's explanation of it, we are being cautious in our challenge. We have abandoned all the issues that were thrown back at us by the Commons, bar this one. We are not simply digging our heels in. We believe—and others have spoken more effectively than I have—that this is an issue of major long-term cultural and practical importance to this House.
To those who say, "What about security?", we say that the funds that are likely to be expended on this uniquely grandiose scheme could be better spent in other directions. They could be better utilised and without the risk to the public relationship with the police and security officers that this scheme will involve.
Whether the scheme should be voluntary or not has been argued ad nauseam, and I do not propose to add to the argument. But I feel that your Lordships want this matter tested; therefore, I seek to test the opinion of the House.
Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.
On Question, Motion, as amended, agreed to.
21 Clause 8, page 7, line 28, leave out "or is subject to compulsory registration"
The Commons disagree to this amendment, but propose Amendment No. 21A in lieu—
21A Page 37, line 34, leave out from "required" to end of line 35 and insert "to be entered in the Register in accordance with an obligation imposed by an Act of Parliament passed after the passing of this Act."
My Lords, I beg to move that this House do not insist on its Amendment No. 21 and do agree to Amendment No. 21A proposed by the Commons in lieu thereof.
I should explain that the Government decided in the other place not to seek to reverse Amendments Nos. 19 and 20, which have now removed Clauses 6 and 7 from the Bill on compulsory registration and on the super-affirmative resolution procedure for bringing in compulsory registration through secondary legislation. Those clauses dealt with the requirement to register and to be issued with an identity card in the second stage of the identity card scheme, and for compulsion to be brought into effect by way of secondary legislation made under this Bill and subject to the super-affirmative procedure.
The Government have accepted the view of your Lordships' House on those clauses, which have now been dropped. The Government have listened carefully to the points raised in both Houses. We have always said that this is designed to be a compulsory scheme, and it still is. We have always made it clear that compulsion will apply in the second stage of the scheme. The final move to compulsion will be when all United Kingdom residents aged 16 or over will be required to have an identity card with civil financial penalties for failure to register and be issued with an identity card. We have always been clear that that second compulsory stage will require a vote in both Houses.
Our original proposal was for a type of secondary legislation known as the super-affirmative procedure, but we now accept that the use of secondary legislation in this way does not seem to have found favour, despite receiving approval from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in its report on this Bill. We have therefore decided that fresh primary legislation will be the best way of moving to the second compulsory phase of the identity cards scheme. We have not set a precise timetable for moving to compulsion because that will depend on a number of factors, including the speed of rollout of the initial phase of the scheme, when we intend that the issue of identity cards will be linked to the renewal of passports and immigration documents.
Moving to compulsion by the use of primary legislation rather than using the super-affirmative order route need not make any great difference to the timetable, however. Even though Clauses 6 and 7 of the Bill have now been dropped, there will remain numerous references to compulsion in the Bill. In particular, Clause 9 remains, which provides for the issue of identity cards to those people who are subject to compulsory registration; Clause 15, on identity checks for public services; and Clause 18, on the safeguards prohibiting an identity card being required as the sole proof of identity in advance of compulsion, although it contains provisions relating to the position after compulsory registration. That is why the Government propose Amendment No. 21A to clarify in Clause 43 that the definition of, "subject to compulsory registration" now means required,
"to be entered in the Register in accordance with an obligation imposed by an Act of Parliament passed after the passing of this Act".
That means that any references in the Bill to "compulsory registration" now relate to compulsion imposed in future primary legislation.
Amendment No. 21, which the Motion disagrees with, would remove a consequential reference in Clause 8 to issuing an identity card to someone who is subject to compulsory registration. While this will have no effect until the further primary legislation referred to in Amendment No. 21A is in place, as I have made clear the ultimate intention is for there to be a compulsory scheme and so it would make sense for this reference to remain in Clause 8.
Moved, That this House do not insist on its Amendment No. 21 and do agree to Amendment No. 21A proposed by the Commons in lieu thereof.—(Baroness Scotland of Asthal.)
My Lords, I support government Motion E—the first government Motion I have supported today. I accept that it is a very reasonable substitute for my Amendment No. 21. When I tabled it during earlier consideration of the Bill, when the main thrust of my argument was to leave out Clauses 6 and 7, I did so as a representative consequential amendment. At the time I appreciated that my resources in opposition were simply inadequate fully to list all the consequential amendments that might be needed. I certainly accept that the Government have found a much more elegant way of having a consequential amendment by introducing the new definition. It fully meets the needs that I had in seeking to remove Clauses 6 and 7. The Government's Motion does not in any way jeopardise the change made to the Bill by this House's acceptance of Motion D1, which retains Amendments Nos. 16 and 22. Therefore, I support the Government's Motion.
My Lords, I have been in this House for only 43 years. When I first came here I was confused at all levels, but the longer I stayed here I found that I was confused at a higher and higher level until today. Today I am confused at the lowest level that I have ever been confused at in your Lordships' House, thanks in part to the wisdom of the noble Baroness opposite who has moved sideways, backwards and shifted from one sand to another.
I hope that what I say may be of help because, as the noble Baroness knows, throughout I have believed in the passport and an identity card related to the passport and not related to anything else. For a brief moment she suggested that the passport might have had its day and that it would be useful only for travel. As she knows well, it has been confirmed to me in two Parliamentary Questions that the passport is the ultimate proof of identity worldwide. As I have been unable to obtain answers to questions I have asked the Government, I have done my own research among 18 of the 22 countries that are in the EEA. I have asked them what information they have at present and how they feel about the matter. The Minister said how delighted the French were that we were going to have identity cards. However, only a year ago they gave up all requirements for foreign residents to have an identity card. No green card is required in France. Other countries are following the same pattern as regards freedom of movement. The question, therefore, is, what is the purpose of an identity card if you have a passport? The only purpose is greater convenience. It is smaller and it allows you to travel within the EEA states. However, it does not allow you to travel anywhere else. It is not proof of your identity if you wish to cash a cheque. It is not acceptable to banks as proof of identity. It is acceptable as proof of identity only in enabling you to cross the frontier within those 22 states.
Previously, I suggested to the noble Baroness that it was not necessary to make the identity card compulsory because, if it was worthwhile, people would have it. I would like one. If I can choose my own number that I can remember, can I have 00111? I would like one straightaway. We know that biometric passports are a good idea and that other countries are adopting them. They should have been rolled out in the United Kingdom in October 2005. When will they be rolled out? As we know, the biometric passport will not have five or 10 fingerprints, it will have limited information. No one who does not have a reader will be able to tell who the person is other than from the photograph. The biometric aspect of that is of value only to those who can read it. As I have said before, I would like to have as much information as I possibly can on my identity card, but I do not want the Government to have any because it is my information.
A rather interesting point is beginning to come up. As the noble Baroness or the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, pointed out recently, all the countries have different requirements. I have already pointed out that the Germans found it impossible to accept what we are proposing because their data protection Act effectively forbids it. Foreigners in this country should after 90 days—and that means anyone who has a job over here because they will have a job for more than 90 days—supposedly compulsorily register at some time in the future and must have certain information on their card to prove their identity, but to whom? They will already have got into the country. The noble Baroness was kind enough to answer the question that one thing they will not have on their identity card is their nationality. That is totally incomprehensible. If a foreigner is over here, the first thing you want to know is what his nationality is. My confusion goes further. The noble Baroness said today that there will be one identity card linked to the passport—certainly at this stage. There will not be one linked to the driving licence and so on. Will she confirm—as she said once in Committee—that there will be only one identity card, that it will be a biometric identity card linked to a biometric passport and that it will be voluntary?
As the noble Baroness pointed out, although 80 per cent of people in this country have passports and 4 million are issued each year, it does not take someone to do a cheap crossword to work out how long the process will take. But as we have almost more passports per capita than any other country in the world, we are nearly there. By my calculations 92 per cent of people who will travel, or would like to travel, already have passports. The older people who decide that they do not want to travel will not be in the same position as people in the continental countries which have an identity card that enables them to travel to neighbouring countries.
I again find it unnecessary to do anything more than point out that this measure could easily be voluntary. It could be sold to people. This morning when I arrived at an airport to travel to this House, I found for the first time that my right finger, having not worked too hard in the garden, let me jump the queue. I put my card in a slot. Of the 120 people queuing, there were only two in my short queue. That was great. The card does not cost me anything; I have it because I am a regular traveller. The whole concept of biometrics is not of concern; the compulsion aspect is. The Minister kindly acknowledged that it will be some time before the primary legislation is introduced to make the measure compulsory. Therefore, there will be a consultation period. We could consider that the whole idea of having an identity register in addition to the Passport Office and the identity card is a complete and utter waste of time. What will the identity card do? It will not be acceptable to security services or to anyone in a shop.
It is strange that although your driving licence is meant to be proof of identity, it is not. It is pretty difficult to see anyway. So, in general, it is not acceptable as proof of identity. Nor, for example, are any of your credit cards acceptable as proof of identity. Should you wish to purchase something in one country or another, in many of them the only proof of identity that is acceptable is your passport. The identity card is not proof of identity, for example, for the purchase of a car in Germany. How can we so enhance the identity card to give it a real value rather than just convenience?
We raised many of these points at Second Reading when other people did not listen to them. One of the problems we face is that the public at large—if you can call them that—have not understood that this Bill is mainly about an identity register. They are not opposed to the principle of having identity cards provided they will be helpful. I do not think that people are too opposed to the fingerprint concept. Already I find that with my parliamentary iPac rather than trying to remember the number—which was the date of Napoleon's death, but I have forgotten exactly when he died—I can use my fingerprint for identity purposes.
Will the Minister confirm that we are to have only one identity card at this stage? Could it please be voluntary? What will we do about the foreigner who wants to come here? Will we insist that he should have an identity card? I think the noble Baroness may find that that would put off a lot of people considering longer term employment over here. There is a real concern about the dishing out of data and a belief of some in perfide Albion that effectively we are in league with the United States and that information will run from one country to another. As the Minister knows, in Switzerland, Germany and four other countries the transfer of data to third parties, or even to different parties within government, is not possible.
I sense that the Minister has shifted her ground very much, in a very charming way. I am very pleased that she lost the vote; it was quite right that she should do, because the voluntary method is better than anything else. As I was driving through the storms in Europe last week, I suddenly thought to myself, "Goodness me, why am I thinking of nationalisation?" That was one of the first things that I opposed in your Lordships' House, from this very place; it was on shipbuilding. I thought, "You know what this Bill is doing? It is stealing my nationality. It is nationalising the British people". It is taking the data away from me and not letting me know what I have got, because I would not be able to remember it anyway. I can still remember Sloane 1234, which I think was the telephone number for Harrods, but I cannot remember more than three or four numbers at a time. As for alpha-numeric combinations, they are pretty difficult.
I am not being anti-anything; I would simply like the Minister to confirm that we will have only one identity card for the foreseeable future, that the card will be linked to the passport and that there will be no need to have a central identity register until some time in the future.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, knows, we have debated many of these issues on a number of occasions, not least when the matter was raised on
My Lords, I hope that the Minister will forgive me. On
"I thank the noble Lord. The truth is that EU citizens do not have to surrender their own national cards when they come here. However, they will be eligible for a UK card if they are resident here, but it will not show nationality".—[Hansard, 15/11/05; col. 1008.]
My Lords, that is a correct recitation of what was said but, if the noble Lord remembers, either there was a letter or we spoke later to make the distinction between the residence permit and the identity card. The foreign national will apply for a residence permit and their nationality will be on that card. If I have misled the noble Lord or the House in that regard and if there has been any confusion, I am happy to have had this opportunity to clarify the matter. I thought that we had had an exchange of correspondence, but I will check that and, if I am wrong, I apologise.
My Lords, I am sorry to persist, but many people have asked me this, particularly some friends on the Continent. The Minister went on:
"They will have an ID card that they can use; it will identify them and it will have the ability to contain their addresses but it will not show their nationality".—[Hansard, 15/11/05; col. 1008.]
My Lords, I remind the House of what stage we are at in the Bill. It may be appropriate, bearing in mind the interchange that we are having, if I write to the noble Lord, as it seems to me that this does not necessarily spring from the amendment that we are considering; it goes more broadly. I would be happy to write on this. It may be necessary for me to track through what has been said so that, if I have unintentionally misled or confused the House, I can clarify the situation with greater precision. It might be easier to do it that way than from the Dispatch Box. I ask the forgiveness of the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, in advance, in the event that I have inadvertently misled or confused him in a way that I should not have done.
The noble Lord also asked what we will use the card for. We will be able to use the cards to prove our identity. If the card becomes of high quality and if it is generally recognised, it will be used more and more as a means of proving identity. When we spoke about the earlier amendment, I made the point that as the utility of the identity card is enhanced—the convenience that the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, referred to—it is likely that the card will take primacy, particularly as a large volume of travel is within EEA countries. Therefore, the use of the passport, which is needed for travel to countries outside the EEA, will be a matter of balance and consideration.
The noble Lord is right that the group of people—other than those who are in the third age—who do not tend to use passports are those in the lowest economic strata of society and who lack the financial ability to travel as many of us do. That category of people needs to have proper provision. British citizens will find that this document will become more and more useful and more and more accessible. We have already dealt with why we think the specific linking of the passport to the identity card makes sense, for cost and for all the other reasons that we have set out. This House has spoken, asking the other place to think again. I am sure that the other place will think again and that, having thought again, it will express its voice even more clearly. Next time, maybe this House will have ears to hear it.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
47 Clause 24, page 21, line 13, at end insert—
"( ) There shall be a Commissioner appointed by Her Majesty."
The Commons disagree to this amendment for the following reason—
47A Because it is appropriate for the Secretary of State to appoint the National Identity Scheme Commissioner and to receive his reports
48 Page 21, line 14, leave out "Secretary of State must appoint a Commissioner to" and insert "Commissioner shall"
The Commons disagree to this amendment for the following reason—
48A Because it is appropriate for the Secretary of State to appoint the National Identity Scheme Commissioner and to receive his reports
50 Clause 25, page 22, line 16, leave out "make a report to the Secretary of State" and insert "lay before each House of Parliament a general report"
The Commons disagree to this amendment for the following reason—
50A Because it is appropriate for the Secretary of State to appoint the National Identity Scheme Commissioner and to receive his reports
51 Page 22, line 18, leave out subsections (2) to (5) and insert—
"( ) The Commissioner may also, at any time, lay before Parliament such other reports on any matter relating to the carrying out of those functions as the Commissioner sees fit.
( ) If it appears to the Commissioner, after consultation with the Secretary of State, that the publication of a particular matter contained in a report under this section would be prejudicial to—
(a) national security, or
(b) the prevention or detection of crime,
the Commissioner must exclude that matter from the copy of the report that he lays before Parliament.
( ) Where the Commissioner excludes from publication any matter under the provisions of this section, he must make a report on that matter to the Secretary of State."
The Commons disagree to this amendment for the following reason—
51A Because it is appropriate for the Secretary of State to appoint the National Identity Scheme Commissioner and to receive his reports
Amendments Nos. 47 and 48 would have the effect that the National Identity Scheme Commissioner would be appointed by Her Majesty rather than by the Secretary of State. Noble Lords will be aware that to a certain extent this is a presentational issue. There will be very little difference in practical terms whether the National Identity Scheme Commissioner is appointed by Her Majesty or by the Secretary of State.
There are a variety of different statutory commissioners; some are appointed by Her Majesty, some are appointed by the Prime Minister and some are appointed by the Secretary of State. An example of a commissioner who is appointed by the Secretary of State is the Immigration Services Commissioner, whose general duty is to promote good practice on the part of those who provide immigration advice. Of the commissioners who are appointed by Her Majesty, there are those, such as Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary and Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons, who nevertheless report to the Secretary of State. As the House will be aware, the Police and Justice Bill merges those two inspectorates and a number of others into Her Majesty's Chief Inspector for Justice, Community Safety and Custody, who will report to the Secretary of State, the Lord Chancellor and the Attorney-General.
It is therefore clear that, as a general rule, statutory commissioners report to a relevant Minister or Ministers. That is the case regardless of the mechanism of their appointment. The Information Commissioner is an exception. He is appointed by Her Majesty by Letters Patent, is a corporation sole and reports directly to Parliament. It is appropriate for the National Identity Scheme Commissioner to be appointed by the Secretary of State; the Secretary of State will have ultimate responsibility for the effective and efficient operation of the identity cards agency and it is right therefore that the commissioner should report to and be appointed by the Secretary of State. I assure the House that the appointment of the National Identity Scheme Commissioner will follow the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments rules and code of practice, as well as Home Office guidance on public appointments made by Ministers.
Amendment No. 50 would result in the commissioner reporting directly to Parliament rather than to the Secretary of State, who would then lay the reports before Parliament. Amendment No. 51 would have the effect that the commissioner, not the Secretary of State, would have the final say over which matters would be excluded from his reports on the basis that publication would be prejudicial to national security or to the prevention or detection of crime. We consider it necessary for the commissioner's report to be addressed to the Secretary of State, and for the Secretary of State—albeit in consultation with the commissioner—to remain responsible for determining which parts of the reports should be excluded before they are laid before Parliament. Noble Lords will be aware that there are precedents for the removal of sensitive aspects of reports of statutory commissioners before they are laid before Parliament. For example, similar mechanisms apply in relation to the Surveillance Commissioner, the Intelligence Services Commissioner, and Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary. It is our view that Clause 25 of the Bill contains adequate safeguards to ensure that there is sufficient scrutiny of the commissioner's reports. All reports prepared by the commissioner will be laid before Parliament.
In addition, there are only two reasons why matters may be excluded from the report that is laid before Parliament—if the publication of the material would be prejudicial to national security or to the prevention and detection of crime. It is important to understand that, simply because a matter has been excluded from one report, it does not follow that the information will never be made public. If, for example, a matter was excluded due to an ongoing criminal investigation, once that matter was concluded there would be no reason why it could not appear in any subsequent reports.
I simply do not think that the commissioner is the right person to make the decision about what should be excluded from his report. The Secretary of State, by virtue of his overarching responsibility, has a thorough overview of issues affecting national security and the prevention and detection of crime. For the amendment to be workable—that is to say, for the National Identity Scheme Commissioner to be capable of making an informed decision about what should and should not be excluded from the report—he would have to be briefed on national security and crime in the way that the Secretary of State is. Aside from being a disproportionate way of ensuring that certain sensitive information does not get into the public domain, that would significantly change the nature of the commissioner's role.
Noble Lords will be aware that these amendments were disagreed to in the other place. These amendments were put to the vote and the will of the elected House was that they should not be accepted. We therefore believe that this House should accept the views of the other place and not press the Motion to a Division. I therefore ask noble Lords not to insist on amendments Nos. 47, 48, 50 and 51. I hope, however, that noble Lords will feel that those amendments have served a useful purpose, because we have been able to debate them and to look carefully at how the commissioner will operate. That has meant that we have a greater degree of understanding and expectation of how the whole system will work. I hope that that will have reassured the House. I beg to move.
Moved, That this House do not insist on its Amendments Nos. 47, 48, 50 and 51, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reasons 47A, 48A, 50A and 51A.—(Baroness Scotland of Asthal.)
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her full and clear justification of the maintenance of the Bill as it stood. She chastises one with such elegance and charm that it is almost impossible to realise that one has been thoroughly flogged and has got nothing out of it, but there we are; that is the way.
I suppose that the only thing about which I still have a strong residual sense is the appointment of the commissioner. This is a singularly sensitive appointment. The commissioner will have to delve into the interstices of the Civil Service and will have to make some strong judgments about the discharge of the Home Secretary's responsibilities with regard to the registry and all its affairs. I therefore would have wished strongly for the appointment by the Crown to have been preserved, as the independence needs not only to be real but to be seen to be real. However, acting, as I believe that we have, with care and consideration for the primacy of the other place, we do not seek to oppose the proposals.
My Lords, I rise because I moved Amendment No. 50, the one on reporting, on the earlier occasion. Like the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, I have listened with great care to the Minister's patient explanation as to why the reports should be given to the Secretary of State rather than direct to Parliament. She has repeated in some detail what she said on
I simply want to make two points. The Minister spoke about the will of the other House being expressed on this matter. I suppose, in a sense, that it was, although the matter was not debated at all. Because of the way in which these matters are dealt with in another place, with the imposition of timetables, the debate was on something completely different and the vote simply followed automatically. It is worth making that comment when we are dealing with the commissioner's relationship with Parliament. Many months ago, the Minister, in reply to a Select Committee, said that the primary job of the commissioner was to advise the Secretary of State. The last time that we debated this matter, I said that I believed that the primary job was to report to Parliament and to protect the citizen. That is why we moved our amendment. Although I understand that there are security grounds for doing it in the way that the Minister describes, the point needs to be made that the commissioner is there not to serve the purposes of the Secretary of State but to protect the citizen and to serve Parliament. Even though the other place did not think that this matter was worth discussion, or could not find time to discuss it, it seems to me to be the job of this House to ensure that the citizen is protected and that the role of Parliament is looked at closely.
I am therefore somewhat regretful that we cannot pursue the matter further. I think that the point has been made, however, and I hope that the commissioner will recognise that the House has expressed the view that he should do his job with the principles that I have expressed in mind—the protection of the citizen and the duty of Parliament. I hope that his relationship with the Secretary of State will be very much guided by those principles.
My Lords, the Minister has offered some reassuring words, but I do not see how a proper check is being provided when the person who is supposed to be the check on the system is appointed by and reports to the person controlling at the top. It is a bit like having a corporate bank account with only one signature on it. No one would ever allow that to happen in business. You would be labelled as a total lunatic if you did it. I still have that feeling, and this self-certification and internal checking that has started to appear in many of the Bills that come to us from the Executive concerns me. We must remember that this scheme was first floated by the Home Office to a Conservative administration, although it did not get anywhere, and has been floated time and again.
We must remember that Parliament is here to act as a check on the Executive. That is what Magna Carta was about, and we forget that at our peril. It may be said that the country effectively votes for an executive at the elections, but it is really voting for a slate in Parliament. We sometimes get confused when we think about exactly which hat the Executive is wearing when it sits in Parliament. When members of the Cabinet are in Parliament, they are sitting as legislators, the people who control the Executive. They sometimes forget that. We ought to maintain some of these checks, and it is with great regret that I see these amendments being turned down by the other place, which ought to know better.
My Lords, I intervene only briefly. Being international, one of the sad things I face is that I tend to be one of the few representatives of the 13 million British subjects who live abroad. They have a certain concern about an identity register, and let us assume that the 13 million people who live abroad do have passports. Because of the current situation as regards the disclosure of information I have been asked to try to seek assurance that, if we are not to have an independent commissioner, the information will not be passed to foreign governments or others under any circumstances without the approval or knowledge of the person concerned. The Minister will know full well that we have many British subjects working in various difficult areas and territories where the rule of law is not absolute. It is just that sort of assurance that would be welcome. I should prefer the Bill to be as we amended it here but I accept that we are in a minority.
My Lords, I certainly hope that I can reassure noble Lords, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, that we have already taken all proper steps to ensure that only appropriate reference will be given to anyone under the Bill. We went through in extensive detail what those safeguards are and I think it would be invidious if I tried to abridge all of it. However, I can reassure the noble Lord that no disproportionate or improper use of that data will be permitted either within or outwith the jurisdiction.
Of course I hear what the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, says about the benefits of a commissioner being otherwise appointed. I hope I made clear in my remarks supporting the Motion that the distinction between Her Majesty appointing and my right honourable friend the Home Secretary or his successors in title supervising involves very little practical difference. I reassure the House that the appropriate scrutiny will be undertaken to ensure that what happens is proportionate and right.