Clause 2 : Cancellation of ID cards etc
Amendment 1 not moved.
Moved by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath
2: Clause 2, page 2, line 5, at end insert-
"( ) giving cardholders the option of being reimbursed £30 on surrendering their ID cards by such a date and pursuant to such arrangements as the Secretary of State considers appropriate"
My Lords, we come to an important amendment, which I hope the Minister will be prepared to accept, to do right by those members of the public who in good faith purchased an ID card. The introduction of ID cards was controversial and subject to intense debate in your Lordships' House. We on this side saw the ID card scheme as a convenient and secure way of asserting one's identity in everyday life. The card was more affordable than a passport and functioned as a valid travel document throughout Europe, and we saw it as a way of demonstrating eligibility to work and as proof of age for young people or those without a driving licence. The parties opposite disagreed with that principle and in their election manifestos argued for abolition of the cards. For that reason, we have not at any stage sought to oppose the Bill, although in Committee we tabled some probing and constructive amendments, including this one.
The point of my amendment is this. As a result of the introduction of ID cards, 12,000 or so members of the public purchased a card for £30. The cards were for a period of 10 years. As a result of the Bill, should it successfully pass, the cards are to be cancelled within a short time, many years before their due expiry date. That is fair enough; it is a decision of the Government and is why they have brought this legislation to your Lordships' House. What is not fair is the Government's decision to refuse to refund the £30 to those who purchased an ID card.
I have been rather disappointed by the Minister's somewhat unsympathetic attitude. On Second Reading, she said:
"We realise that some people who spent £30 for a card with a 10-year life expectancy will be disappointed that it will be cancelled later this year without any refund, but those who chose to buy a card did so in the full knowledge of the unambiguous statements by the coalition parties that the scheme would be scrapped if we came to office. They cannot now expect taxpayers to bail them out".
She went on to say that,
"citizens have to be aware of what is going on around them. It was clear that this scheme would have a risky future ahead of it".-[Hansard, 18/10/10; col. 715.]
She then dismissed the potential refund of £30 as,
"rather less than probably most people pay for a monthly subscription to Sky".-[Hansard, 18/10/10; col. 742.]
The Minister seemed to be saying that members of the public are meant to have a thorough understanding of the views of political parties, make an assessment of who is going to win an election and then make their dispositions accordingly.
So even if you accept the argument that members of the public were meant to read the newspapers to get an understanding of what the opposition parties were saying would happen with ID cards in the event that they won-that even though a member of the public had bought a card for 10 years, it was tough luck-the fact is that the position was not clear in the media and there were conflicting statements.
I encourage noble Lords to think about the wider principle, not just about ID cards and £30. An incoming Government are saying that because they disagreed with the original policy of a previous Government, it is simply tough luck that members of the public decided to act on that policy. They are simply expected to have this right taken away from them without any possible compensation or recompense at all. I think that that is a rather extraordinary principle to adopt. I also think that it impacts on the reputation of governments as a whole. Does the Minister not see that, in refusing to refund the £30, she is really developing a new principle which can only reduce trust in government generally?
I also point out to the Minister that, in the impact assessment which accompanies the Bill, and in the option that the Government believe is the right option, provision is made for the termination of contracts with contractors who were employed to develop the ID infrastructure. Why is it acceptable to recompense contractors but not members of the public? Of course she will say that there is contract law, but this surely goes much wider than contract law.
I would like to quote from a letter that appeared in the Timeson
"Sir, I received last week an undated letter from the chief executive of the Identity & Passport Service. His letter contained a most extraordinary statement: 'I am writing to let you know that the Government has announced it intends to cancel the identity card scheme and the National Identity Register. To minimise the cost to taxpayers, the Government has also announced that refunds will not be provided for current cardholders'".
The letter goes on to say:
"It is beyond belief that a government department can offer a ten-year service to the public, charge a fee and then, after a few weeks, announce that the service is to be withdrawn and no money refunded. Were such an action to be proposed by a private business, it would create an outcry from whichever government department was responsible".
The letter concludes:
"I believe a large proportion of those issued were purchased, after encouragement by the Government, by young people, to whom £30 is a significant sum. Can there be any possible justification for penalising them in this way?".
That was from the noble Lord, Lord Levene, and I think that the comments he made in June are as relevant today as they were four months ago. I very much hope that the Minister, even at this late stage, will agree that members of the public who request to have the £30 recompensed will have the money refunded. I beg to move.
My Lords, my name is on Amendment 2. I led the opposition from these benches to the Identity Cards Bill. I spent a good deal of one year of my life opposing it. I am therefore utterly delighted that this Bill is before the House. However, I have to say that, for me, it is slighted by the denial of reimbursement of the fee paid by 12,000 of our fellow citizens when they took out this card. Had they been told at the time they took out the card that they were in danger of losing the card and not being reimbursed, then that would be different. Had the coalition partners in their election manifestos said not merely that they would revoke the whole of the ID card scheme, but not compensate those who had taken cards in the interim, then that would be different. But neither of those circumstances prevails. I really do not think that it is remotely acceptable, for the reasons which the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, laid out in moving the amendment. It simply is not acceptable to say, "Ah, but they should have realised", which is what it boils down to.
Governments must set an example of the standards they expect of private industry. Had private industry engaged in a tactic of this sort, noble Lords on all the Benches would have been up in arms, and rightly so. I feel probably more strongly than I ought to that there is a simple, basic issue of fairness in this. Since this coalition launched itself as a coalition on the basis of fairness, I felt compelled, contrary to the wishes of my Whips, to put my name to this amendment, and I have done so with some conviction.
My Lords, I support noble Lords who have spoken. Will the noble Baroness tell the House whether she disputes that the card is property for the purposes of Article 1 of the First Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights. Its cancellation is therefore a deprivation of property and compensation is payable. It would be most unfortunate if those whose cards are being taken away need to litigate this matter.
My Lords, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, I supported the introduction of ID cards. I still oppose this Bill in abolishing them. But certainly I think that the Government are being very petty in terms of refusing compensation to those who bought the cards, particularly as it appears that they are paying compensation to contractors which supplied machinery, software and everything else to set up the ID scheme. They will be paid full compensation. The argument is that they have a contract between the Government and them.
I would argue that the people who bought ID cards equally have a contract between themselves as individuals and the Government from whom they purchased the card. If that is the case, they are as much entitled to compensation as the companies which are being compensated for loss of earnings and profits as a result of the card scheme being cancelled. Will the noble Baroness spell out exactly what compensation is being paid to these companies? I gather that the computers holding the information will be physically smashed up. Will she also include the cost of that smashing up? There must be a cost to the public purse involved in all of that. Perhaps the noble Baroness will spell some of that out during her speech.
My Lords, the people who hold these cards, and there were not many of them, were inveigled into getting them on the basis that the scheme would go ahead and eventually would apply to everyone. In fact, they were helping the Government out. Although it was not this coalition Government, it was a Labour Government. Nevertheless, those people had every reason to trust the Government and trust a future Government to give them some recompense if the system of ID cards did not go ahead.
I have to say to the noble Baroness that the coalition is in need of support at the present time. Would it not be in their own interests to show good will and to show that they are cognisant of people's feelings and do not want them to feel offended? Would it not, for a small cost, be better if the Government supported, or accepted, this amendment, which might do them some good electorally? You never know.
My Lords, Amendment 1 was not moved not because the Minister convinced me in Committee of her arguments on cost and complexity. The complexity seemed to be manufactured and the cost involved figures that I could not recognise; nor could anybody else who studied it, given that banks issue cards every day of the week gratis and do not expect it to cost a tremendous amount of money. On the other hand, I was convinced by the noble Baroness's determination not to move on the issue and not least by the discourtesy shown-not that I blame the Minister for this, because she has always been courteous. But I asked two questions in Committee and I did not get the courtesy of an answer. I indicated that I was happy to accept the answer betwixt then and Report. I asked whether the Government had consulted the Government of Gibraltar, who issue travel cards and replace them at very little expense for the same kind of number as the 12,000 that have been issued in this country to people who are not airside workers. I also asked how many ID cards from different countries were accepted by the UK Immigration Service at British ports and airports. I did not get an answer to that, either.
But those unanswered questions were not what determined me not to move Amendment 1. I thought that the moral high ground was rather greater on Amendment 2 than on Amendment 1. Amendment 1, although it was justified in my view, would have applied to a number of the 12,000 people and it would have pre-empted consideration of Amendment 2. Amendment 2 applies to everybody who voluntarily applied for a card, meaning that they at least would have the consolation of the restoration of the money they paid. For me the most telling argument for why this should happen concerns the impact assessment that the Government carried out. The civil servants who drew up that impact assessment put as the case for refunds that a non-refund would mean a reputational loss to the Government-a reputational loss for the sake of £400,000. I said in Committee and I say it again: the reputation of any democratic Government in this country, of whatever source, colour and coalition, has to be worth £400,000. It is de minimis in departmental budget terms and infinitesimal in national budget terms, but not to those 12,000 people, many of whom are elderly or very young. Business people might use the card for travel, young people would like the card because it would get them into places where they needed to carry their passports, such as clubs and pubs where they had to prove their age, and elderly people could use it as a travel document although it was also a document of some cost.
It seemed to me that the Minister was saying that if you are wealthy enough that £30 does not matter, you will not complain. Ipso facto, if you are poor and you do not complain, you will suffer in silence. Again, for the sake of £400,000, 12,000 people who voluntarily believed the Government of the day are being betrayed by the Government that followed them. I do not believe that any Member of your Lordships' House or the other place can sit easy when this happens and we have the opportunity with this amendment to remedy it.
My Lords, I am equally concerned that for the sake of a very small amount of money the Government are taking this intransigent attitude. That is assuming that 12,000 people will be seeking £30. I very much doubt whether everybody who has paid their £30 will in fact be doing so, so the sum is probably rather less than the noble Lord, Lord Brett, was talking about. I wondered, as a sort of compromise, whether it would not be possible for those who had paid their £30 to be allowed to offset it against the cost of their next passport so that the cost of their passport is reduced by that amount. That might in some way alleviate this disheartening feeling that everybody seems to have about this rather abrupt and unfair arrangement.
What is being done here is to deprive the identity card of value by the main provisions of this Bill. For the people who have paid for the card that is something that we really have to take into account, having regard to the Government's situation at the time they took out the card. I suggest to my noble friend that this matter should be subject to further consideration. There is an opportunity to do that if my noble friend is willing.
I spoke on this matter in Committee. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Brett, because I see that the card could still have some use. Although the national identity register, which is what we all objected to, has been removed, having a bit of plastic as a travel document to get around Europe would have been useful and still might be. Some of the 12,000 people concerned bought the card for that. Like the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, I certainly think that those people who thought that they had bought a plastic passport should be allowed to offset it against the cost of getting the more expensive passport that they will now require to go to Europe. For them, it was effectively a cheap way of getting a passport if you needed to travel to Europe.
We penalise insurance salesmen for being more honest than this. The Government are guilty of misselling. They went out and sold the card hard as having lots of benefits, and so people took it up. If you expect a member of the public, seven months ahead of the general election, to be able to predict its outcome, there are a lot of geniuses among the public whom we ought immediately to recruit to become pollsters. They may be all the people who did not buy the card. To me, it looks vindictive and nothing else. This matter could be a PR negative for the Government-a little spark that could catch the newspapers' imagination. They will find someone who feels really hard done-by. It will get blown up; it will be in the Daily Mail, which will say that something must be done about it, but it will be too late by then.
I know that civil servants will produce reasons for the refund being difficult to administer et cetera. I cannot see the problem in saying, "The only people who get refunded are those who turn up with a card. If you hand in a card, you get 30 quid". It would be as simple as that. That would not be very expensive to administer. If the Government wished to give the contract to one of the large systems integrators, however, they would end up with a bill for about £5 million, because it is their job to make sure that partners in America are well satisfied with lots of dosh. They are the people whom the Government will have to pay at the end of all this. They will have had unbreakable contracts, so they will have to be paid several million pounds for breaking the contract. A large slice of that will end up in American partners' pockets. The poor old citizens of this country will get absolutely-I will use unparliamentary language if I go on.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and said so in Committee, that this is an expropriation of property, or certainly property rights. Even if the card belongs to the Government and is non-transferable, that card gave you rights-that is what they sold it on. I am quite sure that that is expropriation and that there could be a claim under the ECHR. It will go on top of the Digital Economy Act, which we were advising the Government against the other day. So they will have a nice time in the courts.
If I had been lucky enough to get a card, I would have kept it as a collector's item, but I know that a lot of people would not like to do so and would like their 30 quid back. They are better Scotsmen than me.
Perhaps I might concentrate on why people bought the card in the place. If they bought it, as it seems, for a purpose, and that purpose no longer obtains, there is no doubt that we are taking away something from them. Surely, therefore, the answer is not to recompense them but to enable them to continue for the period of the card's validity to be able to do what it is they bought the card for in the first place. That is a sensible and proper way of doing it. Like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay-though I may express myself in less elevated language-I feel that the public have every reason to believe that, if they buy something from the Government for a period of time, they should be able to continue to use it in that way. Whereas recompense is an expensive and untidy way of doing it, I really do not see why they cannot go on using it for the time that they were supposed to use it for.
I must apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for introducing him. I think that the technical term for what was going on around here is "kerfuffle".
I will not pretend that I have not been troubled by this issue. I am not persuaded by arguments that members of the public should have read the manifestos, certainly not in the detail that might have been expected, nor that they could have predicted the outcome of the general election. I am being told that everybody should have been reading the manifestos, but we leave it to the press to summarise them. However, the debate in Committee was about fine detail in the manifestos, and I do not think that that should be used as the basis-certainly not the only basis-for the Government's argument.
My view is that this issue is finely balanced between taxpayers and individual cardholders. It is not the same as a consumer situation where there are two parties, the supplier of goods and the purchaser of goods. There are three parties, and the third party is the taxpayer. I understand the point that this is a comparatively small sum of money, but comparatively small sums have more value than they did a year or two ago.
The point has been made about whether this would be expropriation. That point was not taken up by the Joint Committee on Human Rights. No doubt the Minister will say something about that. I hope, too, that she will say what would be required if the cards were to go on having a use. As I understand it, it would still be necessary to retain the register. Otherwise, the cards are pieces of plastic that do not relate to anything. Quite apart from our objection to the offensiveness of the register, the cost and perhaps the confusion of retaining the register would be issues.
My Lords, I am sorry to speak from this side against the clause, but I believe that it is morally indefensible. It is not just that it is a small sum of money, so it is particularly stupid not to pay it, but, as has been said, this sort of thing does the Government-any Government, those of the ruling political class-absolutely no good. The public will say, "They are just not to be trusted. They just can't do things fairly". Whoever was the civil servant and others who put up the suggestion that this money should not be compensated or that the card should not be used, I beg them to think again. We really cannot endorse something as shabby as this.
My Lords, I have taken no part in the debates concerning the Bill. Indeed, when I came in here this afternoon, I did not think I was going to take part in it today. However, I have listened to this debate and I find myself in total agreement with the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. It seems to me that, from looking at this as objectively as one can, this is an issue about the continuity of government. The identity cards were not sold on the basis of, "You are buying it from a Labour Government, but if another one come in, things may change and you may have to renegotiate it". The contract-if it was a formal contract-was with the Government, and it is the Government who are now reneging on the contract. I feel very uneasy about it and I hope the Minister will take this back and have another look at it. It is interesting, listening to this debate, that the only person, I think, who has suggested that what the Government are proposing should take place was the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. Everybody else seems unanimously against the Government's position. There is a famous dictum about a hole-I do not need to repeat it. This seems to be an occasion when the Government should think very hard.
My Lords, I would like to raise a further issue which relates to the wording of the amendment. It requires the surrender of the ID card for there to be a reimbursement of £30. There may well be a category of person who would like the £30 back and feel entitled in law to get the £30 back but who actually want to keep their ID card. Of course, there is a further issue here, which may have struck a number of us. With only 12,000 or so cards in circulation, the residual value of the identity card in future might well be a great deal higher than £30. So the question may arise of how many people with an eye to the future would be keen to get that £30 back now but to retain their identity card. Some further examination of these and other issues might be helpful.
My Lords, I recognise the strength of sentiment expressed on all sides of the House. If the House will permit, I shall explain why I cannot accept the amendment.
The Government set out at an early stage that they would not continue with this legislation and that they would repeal the Bill. That has been the long-standing position of the Government, well known in advance. It is fair to say that the Government made their position known on the fact that the ID cards would no longer have any validity.
The noble Earl is quite right. It has always been the intention, whether in opposition or in government, to scrap the ID cards scheme at the least possible extra cost to the taxpayer. Our primary purpose has been to prevent further expense being incurred when we can avoid it. We have no option but to pay compensation to some contractors because we are tied in by the contracts negotiated by our predecessors. That is a contractual agreement, and we are negotiating at the moment what that final sum should be. We do not agree that there is a contract between the Government and cardholders who received a service, nor do we believe that there is any expropriation of property or rights under it. The cardholders are not card-owners; the noble Lords who said that the card was government property were quite right to say so.
I hear what the noble Baroness has just said about the card being government property. Is she saying, therefore, that it would be illegal for a person who had that card to use it in any way for identity purposes? In other words, if a young person was asked for ID in a pub who still had their ID card, if they produced their ID card would they be committing an offence by using a government document?
If it is a valid document, it can be used validly for identity. If it is an invalid or cancelled document, obviously it no longer has any legal status.
Under Clause 6 about the possession of false identity documents, does the ID card once it has been revoked become a false identity document? That was the point that the noble Lord was making. It is government property and it is no longer an identity document, so in using it you are probably using a false identity document.
You are certainly no longer using a valid identity document. It is not any longer valid in law.
The Identity and Passport Service has estimated that the cost of cancelling the ID cards scheme and the national identity register will be up to £5 million. This includes an estimated figure for compensation to the contractors, which I have just mentioned, destruction costs, staffing and other administrative matters. They are all necessary costs that we cannot avoid in abolishing the scheme. A refund scheme would add 10 per cent to that cost, which we do not consider to be a trivial addition.
Noble Lords have talked about principle. One can look at that in several ways. One of the principles that seems to be on offer this afternoon is that one set of taxpayers should refund another set of taxpayers. This does not seem to be a sensible arrangement. Some say that the sum is only about £400,000-one of the noble Lords mentioned that sum-the inference being that in the grand scheme of things this is entirely insignificant. Certainly, compared with the cost of the ID card scheme that has already been paid out-over £290 million-another half a million pounds might not seem significant. That is not, I am afraid, the attitude that the coalition Government take to public spending. We have demonstrated that we have a commitment to ensuring that unnecessary and unjustifiable expenditure is stopped and that we focus on delivering more for less. We are not therefore in a position to offer this refund.
I am listening with some puzzlement. I am not a lawyer, but the Minister has signed off this Bill as being compatible with the convention on human rights. Yet this identity document is the possession of the Government-it is a government-owned thing-and she is confiscating it without compensation. Would it not be wise to take legal advice as to whether she would face a legal challenge if she went ahead with this?
As I have just said, we do not believe that we are expropriating anybody of their rights. If this is challenged in the courts we will obviously defend that position.
May I follow that point? The Minister has made the proposition that there is no right in contract by the cardholders and no expropriation. On the assumption that no advice has been obtained from the law officers on these matters, would it be prudent before the next stage of the Bill to obtain such advice?
I am not sure that I can confirm that. I will to seek to do so before Third Reading.
We should not exaggerate the significance of all this. Much has been made of the elderly and the very young. We have no reliable demographic information at all on who the purchasers were. We know that 3,000 of the 15,000 were given free to airside workers for a particular purpose.
The noble Baroness is getting into the complexities and numbers of this. Is this not a matter of simple principle, irrespective of numbers? If the noble Baroness buys a good or a service and the merchant or other supplier who sells that to her fails to deliver it, she would feel cheated. If that merchant got away with it, she would feel that that undermined the good faith on which the economy and society depend. Is it not a fact that people have in good faith bought a service for 10 years, and after a matter of months, that service is being unilaterally withdrawn? Are people who have done that not entitled to feel thoroughly cheated? Is this not a disgraceful example for a Government of this country to give?
The point I was answering before noble Lords intervened was the inference somehow that we are inflicting great hardship on cardholders. We do not believe this to be the case.
We do not believe that the statutory basis of the issue of ID cards creates a contract or anything akin to a contract in relations between the Secretary of State and the cardholder. Remedies that would be available in the courts if the contract were governed by the law of contract or consumer legislation-which I think is the point raised by the noble Lord-is not available for identity cards.
One or two noble Lords have raised the issue of compromise and of whether it would be a good idea to have one. Could we not, for instance, set the cost of this against the cost of the next passport or, indeed, use the lifetime for which the present card was available? There are associated problems. I do not want to detain the House extensively on this, but the fact of the matter is that the two databases-that is to say, the identity register and the passport database-are not the same. They contain different information, issued for different purposes; their legislative frameworks for what you pay are also different. We cannot therefore simply transfer the one across from the other.
That construction of two differently governed databases with different information on them was the construction of the legislation put through by our predecessors. Unfortunately, in addition to that we are going to destroy the database. We would otherwise have the continuing cost of maintaining it. That is why it cannot be regarded as a valid document for its lifetime; there is nothing behind it against which anybody needing to check your identity would validly be able so to do. There is a problem in that it simply is not a useful document any longer.
I understand that there may be technical reasons why my proposal does not work, but surely they do not apply to the question of a passport. If you sent your form in, it would be quite clear from all the other documents that that little card was for the same person who sent in the form. You do not have to look it up on the two databases; you just know that that is one of the cases in which they could have £30 off. I do not see that that costs anything at all.
I am sorry; I thought that the noble Lord was suggesting that this card should be available for use during its previously indicated lifetime. It is of course a separate issue as to whether you could ask for a refund. There are many problems about the refund issue, one of which is that we would have to verify whether the person presenting a card was actually entitled to that refund, which would mean referring to the database. We would have to notify everybody. The costs involved-
I will be brief. There are times when we have to look at Civil Service advice, good and honest though it is, and apply a political judgment to it. Sometimes it is clear that, in terms of both the justice of the case and the political risk and pain of humiliation, we have to override Civil Service advice. To avoid further pain and agony to the House and to the Minister, I urge her to withdraw and say that she will look at this again.
In answer to an earlier intervention regarding the position of the law officers, my noble friend said that she would look at that and return to it on Third Reading. Since it would be helpful to have the law officers' advice, which at the moment we do not have, would there not be a strong case for deferring this matter until Third Reading, at which point it would be clear?
My Lords, I said that I will indeed confirm the advice that we have received on the legal aspects.
I want to make one final point before concluding: I am not sure whether the concern which has been expressed in this House is entirely shared by the public. Much has been made of public attitudes but, against the background of 15,000 cards having been taken out, we in the Government have received a grand total of 297 letters on the subject, of which 122 included complaints about refunds. That is 122 against 15,000. We should bear in mind that that is against the background of sending letters to all individuals who had taken out a card when we came into office, so one cannot say that they were uninformed about what was going to happen-that they would not be receiving a refund, because that is what we told them. That letter is also in the Library. So-
I regret interrupting the Minister again but it really is crucial, if I may say so, for her to draw a distinction between information given to people before they purchased their cards and information given to people after they purchased their cards. Therefore, I hope that she will not lay any stress at all on what she has just said.
My Lords, I understand that difference. I am saying that all 15,000 cardholders were informed specifically and in terms that these cards would be withdrawn, that they would not be valid thereafter and that there would be no refund. We have had 122 letters of complaint, not necessarily all of them from actual cardholders. I do not think that that indicates a very high level of concern about £30. One has to take into account-
The House is listening with some incredulity to the defence the Minister is making of a mere £400,000 recompense. Today, the Chancellor has assured the Irish Government that he will give them £7 billion of support and here we are in the House of Lords talking about recompensing British people £400,000. It is complete and utter nonsense, if I may say so to the noble Baroness. For her own sake and for the sake of the Government, will she not at least say to the movers of this amendment and to the House, "I have listened to what you say, I will take the matter away and reconsider it and we can come back to it at Third Reading"?
My Lords, support for the Irish Government, the national interest, the economic prosperity of this country and the welfare of Ireland are quite different matters. I do not think that we can ignore the very low level of public interest in and reaction to the Government's decision. The House should take note of that. I have tried to deal with compromises. They do not work; otherwise one might be able to do something in that respect.
I ought to deal with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Brett. I apologise to him that he did not receive an answer earlier. We have not consulted the Government of Gibraltar, who issue their cards in a rather different way. The Identity and Passport Service is not able to answer that question directly. The UKBA is the agency which sees the documents of EU cardholders. We will have to get further information on that point, which I will endeavour to do for the noble Lord.
In light of the views that have been expressed in the House this afternoon, I propose to take this amendment away and consider it.
Before the noble Baroness sits down, will she guarantee to come back with an amendment along the lines of recompensing people? On two occasions the Government have promised to take a proposal of mine away-this Bill has only one more stage-but at Third Reading have weaselled out of it at the last minute. Under the rules governing Third Reading, we are not able to put down anything at that stage to ensure that the Government come back with something, so we need a binding commitment from the Government to come back with an amendment along the lines of this one. If the Government will not give such a commitment, we should not permit the amendment to be withdrawn.
I see the position in which my noble friend finds herself. I respectfully submit to the House that it would be perfectly reasonable for her to ask that this matter be postponed to Third Reading so that she has an opportunity of conveying to her colleagues-because the Government as a whole are involved here-the sentiments that have been very clearly expressed in your Lordships' House. She has explained the reasons for the Government's position. However, a great deal has been said here and I submit that the Government have an opportunity to reconsider. If the Opposition are anxious to achieve fairness and justice, I am sure that this is the correct course, rather than seeking to take the matter further at this juncture-if my noble friend is prepared to take this back, to have it considered by her colleagues in government and to return at Third Reading and tell us what the situation is.
My Lords, I will pick up the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Erroll. It might help the House if my noble friend were to say that the Government would have no objection to similar amendments being tabled again at Third Reading, so that the matter could be deliberately left open to be considered again then.
Perhaps I may just say that I have undertaken to take the point away. I have done so in good faith and noble Lords may rely on my good faith.
My Lords, I say to the Minister that her good faith is not at issue at all. The issue is whether it is possible under the rules of the House to bring back at Third Reading an amendment that has been moved on Report. I would like advice from the Clerk because, with great respect to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, I do not think that that is within the rubric of the House.
My Lords, I understand that there are anxieties around the House. The House is self-regulating, unlike another place, and some noble Lords today have been venting the habits of another place.
My Lords, there have been interventions on Report that have not been in the customary style that we have had in the past. There are Third Reading rules that enable the Government to clarify remaining uncertainties. Where a Minister has in good faith given an undertaking to take away a matter and look at it again, they are able to do so and bring it back at Third Reading. The Minister may also have discussions with opposition and other Peers on how best to deliver that. Certainly, I would be prepared to take further advice between now and Third Reading to enable my noble friend to carry out her commitment. Of course, it is for those who tabled the amendment to decide how they wish to proceed today. My noble friend has given a commitment to look at the matter again. I know that she has also given a commitment to reflect on particular advice. That is where we have reached.
Third Reading guidance is straightforward. Paragraph 8.145 of the Companion states:
"The practice of the House is normally to resolve major points of difference by the end of report stage, and to use third reading for tidying up the Bill ... The principal purposes of amendments on third reading are ... to clarify any remaining uncertainties ... to improve the drafting ... and to enable the government to fulfil undertakings given at earlier stages of the Bill".
In response to my noble friend Lord Phillips, that means that my noble friend has given an undertaking, as she has today, to look at this matter again. She will do so. She does not, as the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, requires, have to give a commitment today as to the precise amendment that may or may not be brought forward. These are the normal rules of procedure.
My Lords, I have listened very carefully to what the noble Baroness has said on this matter, and I am in some difficulty because the noble Baroness and I are now the usual channels. There are no longer three; there are two of us. The noble Baroness will know that we have met on many occasions to discuss whether it is in order for noble Lords to table an amendment at Third Reading that was previously moved in Committee and on Report. We need something rather clearer than we have had so far this afternoon. We need an assurance that if this matter cannot be resolved to our satisfaction-and I think that the House is very much behind the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Hunt-then we can bring back precisely this amendment so that this House can quite properly determine this issue on the terms in which it has been set out this afternoon for the benefit of your Lordships.
My Lords, this is a matter for resolution in the normal manner, which is that usual channels discuss these issues. I understand, as Government Chief Whip, that it would be appropriate for the Opposition to bring forward an amendment if they felt that the government amendment or failure to act was inappropriate. These are the matters that are discussed in the usual manner; as the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, says, we have had these discussions in the past. It may perhaps assist the House to recall that over the last few months the Public Bill Office has on two occasions advised Opposition Members that they may table Third Reading amendments to take forward matters that have been debated on previous occasions. We do enjoy a fair amount of latitude-I say fair because it is fair to all-within the overall context that Third Reading is not intended to open new issues.
My Lords, I have heard with a great deal of interest the comments from the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms, the Government Chief Whip and the Minister. This matter has been aired at Second Reading, in Grand Committee and now on Report; this is the third time we have debated these issues. While great eloquence has been brought to our debates, no new argument has been brought. The noble Baroness has said, finally, at the end of a long debate-and I suspect rather reluctantly-that she will take it back to look at again. Frankly, in view of the debate, that is not good enough: it is quite clear that the House requires the Government to change their mind. Not much purpose is served by yet more agonising. The House is quite prepared to come to a view and I wish to test its opinion.
Amendment 3 not moved.
Moved by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath
4: After Clause 3, insert the following new Clause-
"Report on costs and savings
(1) The Secretary of State must, within 4 months of this Act coming into force, lay before Parliament a report setting out the costs and savings associated with cancelling ID cards.
(2) The report laid under subsection (1) must, in particular, specify-
(a) the costs associated with cancelling all ID cards and sending letters to cardholders under section 2(3),
(b) the costs associated with destroying information in the National Identity Register under section 3, and
(c) any savings identified as a result of cancelling ID cards and destroying information in the National Identity Register."
My Lords, the amendment is fairly straightforward, and I hope that it will be seen as a much-needed addition to the Bill. Conservative shadow Ministers when in opposition made varying claims about the current cost of the ID card scheme which ranged widely from nearly £1 billion to up to £20 billion. Meanwhile, the National Identity Service cost report of October 2009-the official document laid before Parliament under the terms of the Identity Cards Act 2006-stated that the projected forward cost of providing ID cards for the next 10 years until 2019 was £835 million. Crucially, that figure does not equate to the savings to be made from scrapping the scheme. We know that because we read the impact assessment that accompanies the Bill, which states at the bottom of page 4:
"The October 2009 cost report indicated that cancellation of ID cards would avoid future costs of £835 million up to October 2019. However, these costs are planned to be recovered through future fees to ID card purchases. Therefore, there are no benefits to the taxpayer from Year 3 onwards".
The tables included in the impact assessment reveal that total savings from scrapping the scheme are £118 million. The total cost of cancelling the ID cards and the NIR are given as £22 million, although the Bill's Explanatory Notes state the cost to be £55 million. There appears to be a muddle and the Government have been rather misleading to claim the scale of the savings that they have done. A definitive, preferably independently audited cost and saving report would be desirable and it would be appropriate for it to be part of the Bill. I hope that the noble Baroness will consider this matter as sympathetically as she can.
The Government certainly agree that it is important that we are open and transparent about costs and savings. Ministers have set out the level of costs, both in the debate here and in the other place. Clearly, the Opposition do not entirely agree with our figures, but we have set out the costs and savings as we see them and as they are expected to be over the spending period. We also agree that it is important that these are set out in an accountable and auditable form and that is why we are including the costs and savings associated with scrapping the ID card scheme in the annual report and accounts-we have already undertaken to do this-which will be submitted to the House of Commons by the chief executive of the Identity and Passport Service.
Noble Lords will be aware that the annual report and accounts are presented to the House of Commons in accordance with Section 7 of the 2000 Act and they are published by the House of Commons. The accounts are aimed at being published in advance of the Summer Recess. If one looks the noble Lord's amendment, one can see that the timings are such that we would be invited to publish the same information twice over a very short time. I do not think that that makes a great deal of sense.
I can confirm to your Lordships that there will be a full and transparent breakdown of the costs and savings related to ID cards in the IPS annual report and accounts for the next year and that these will cover the points raised in the amendment so that there will be complete clarity on the points that noble Lords have raised. Accordingly, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw this amendment.
I am grateful to the Minister. She has said that the details that I require will be published and I am very happy to accept that assurance. I beg leave to withdraw.
Amendment 4 withdrawn.
Moved by Lord Rosser
5: After Clause 5, insert the following new Clause-
(1) The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a report on the impact of the repeal of the Identity Cards Act 2006 on combating identity fraud and the lessons learnt from the operation of the identity cards scheme.
(2) The Secretary of State must lay the report before Parliament within one year of the coming into force of this Act."
My Lords, this amendment calls on the Government to produce a report on the impact of the repeal of the Identity Cards Act on combating identity fraud and on the lessons learnt from the operation of the scheme. Identity fraud is one of the UK's fastest growing crimes, with nearly 2 million people a year falling victim, and figures suggest it costs the country some £2.7 billion a year. More than nine out of 10 people in the UK consider themselves to be at risk from identity fraud. According to the Government's own fraud prevention service, in the first three quarters of this year, levels of identity fraud increased by almost 10 per cent when compared with the same period in 2009 to nearly 80,000 cases. Any Government obviously have a duty to address this concern and to obtain whatever information is available to ensure that they have an up-to-date and coherent plan for action in this area.
Minimising the paper trail of one's identity details is key to facing the threat of fraud, and it should be acknowledged that ID cards helped to do this. The ID card scheme did not, of course, offer a panacea in addressing identity fraud, and in cases of identity fraud committed online, for example, the ID card did not offer added security. The Minister told the House at Second Reading that an action plan was being developed by the National Fraud Authority and the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau following their strategic assessment of the harm caused by the impact of identity crime and that it was being overseen by the Home Office. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us an update on the progress of the development of the action plan because it should surely take account of the impact of the repeal of the Identity Cards Act 2006, which is provided for in this Bill, on combating identity fraud and the lessons learnt from the operation of the scheme, particularly in the light of the statement in the Government's impact assessment that there would have been benefits in relation to identity fraud. The evidence given to the Committee in the other place on this Bill from the representative of the Manchester Airports Group referred to benefits from the scheme, not least that people were absolutely sure under the scheme that the person who was standing in the pass office was the right person. The witness said that he thought the benefits might be able to be achieved by other means and that some of the innovative ideas in the identity card scheme could be replicated using the passport database or something similar. He believed that if there was a will to do that, it could be done, but at the moment, he did not actually feel that the will was there. Such observations also suggest that there would be a real benefit in having a report on the issues referred to in this amendment and in this work being taken into account in the action plan that, as we understand it, is being developed or subsequently being taken into account.
In the impact assessment that came with the Explanatory Memorandum to what was the Immigration (Biometric Registration) (Amendment) Regulations 2010, the Government were quite clear on the benefits in this area of the residence permits for third-country nationals who are subject to immigration control and who have limited leave to stay in the United Kingdom. The biometric immigration document issued under the regulations takes the form of a card with a chip containing biometric data-namely, fingerprints and a digital facial image. That impact assessment states that among the key monetised benefits of biometric residence permits are a reduction in benefits fraud, enhanced security of the individual's personal information, an easier method of evidencing an individual's rights and entitlements and an improved ability, as it puts it, to check for impostors. That impact assessment also states that it was intended that the additional information that would be provided by recording of biometric data under that regulation could be made available to other bodies, such as the police, within the limits of legislation and would help reduce crime. The impact assessment went on to say that the new permit arrangements also enable checks undertaken when a person applies for a residence permit automatically to identify individuals who have previously had their biometrics recorded and who are now claiming to be someone else.
The Government do not have any difficulty in identifying very clearly the benefits in combating fraud and false identity claims and, indeed, in crime generally in relation to biometric residence permits, and it should therefore not be very difficult for the Secretary of State to have a report produced on the impact of the repeal of the 2006 Act by this Bill on combating identity fraud and on the lessons learnt from the operation of the identity cards scheme. There is surely real potential in taking a close look to ensure that the potential benefits from helping to address identity fraud offered by the identity cards scheme are not lost and that lessons learnt from the operation of the scheme are taken on board. I very much hope that the Minister will feel able to accept this amendment, which I move, as it is clearly in everyone's interest to gain as much information as possible from the operation of relevant schemes in the fight to combat identity fraud.
My Lords, perhaps the Minister could confirm that he would be happier-I am not quite sure that I took this from his speech-for such lessons as there may be from a relatively short and limited experience to be included in the wider work that the Government are doing. Of course, one would not disagree that any available lessons should be learnt; but I doubt whether that work is as useful to Parliament if it is provided separately and discreetly from other work being done on cyber crime and related areas. It is an enormously important area and Parliament will look forward to debating it further. I am not convinced that this is precisely the way to go.
My Lords, at Second Reading of this Bill, I suggested that, while at the moment an identity card would not help to stop fraud on the internet, it will come. There will eventually come a point when, in view of the rising number of people purchasing goods and services online, the banks and the people selling goods will insist that there is some form of identity involved in the transaction. Whether it will be putting a card into your computer or a camera that will show that you actually are the person, I do not know, but I would think the banks in particular will insist on this in the longer run, both for their own hole-in-the-wall cash machines and for buying online. The ID card, as it was originally proposed, if it had been made compulsory from the word go, as I wanted it to be, would have been one of the answers to that and would have saved the private sector very considerable sums of money in the long run.
My Lords, I fully understand the sentiment behind this, but I am not sure this is the best way to go. I do not think it is really the Home Office's forte to produce such a report. I entirely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee; there are a lot of lessons to be learnt and a lot of people studying this sort of thing. As for the figures used by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser-and taking the point just made about the banks-that is the whole point. People confuse theft of credit card details with identity theft. Identity theft is when someone's identity is taken over and used to do many other things, such as entering into contracts, travelling across borders and perpetrating crimes. Nicking a credit card and its details is something completely different. Those provide the huge figures, and the people who can stop that are the banks and the credit card companies by increasing their security. They are always looking at this, and they are trading off between the losses they make on transactions where cards are not present, and the cost of additional security. We are seeing new security measures coming through, but it is not a government job. There is no point at which you would take a national identity card that is not designed for online transactions, and a credit card that at the moment is not designed for them, and hope that one is going to help with the other. Actually, the entire problem about security for the credit card is contained there, and the people know what to do about it. They are getting on with it rather slowly to my mind, but when the fraud figures get big enough they will do something about it. I agree there are lessons to be learnt, but I do not think it is an identity card lesson. There are some other lessons to be learnt, but I think there other bodies better qualified to do the job than the Home Office writing expensive reports.
My Lords, the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, raises two issues. He spoke to the first issue as regards combating identity fraud and the effect of the repeal. He did not really mention the second, which would require us to write reports on the operation of the identity card scheme. I will deal with both those matters because, if the amendment were accepted, they would be obligations on the Government.
I very much support the notion that what we do in government should be evidence-based, but I do not think that trying to draw lessons from a scheme of such narrow scope and numbers, as well as short duration, will help us a great deal in what are, without doubt, serious issues. One can draw a number of lessons about the operation of the scheme itself, but I do not know that they would cast much light of a general kind on how to operate identity schemes in the future. Frankly, the Government's view is that this is not a worthwhile thing for us to try to do.
We entirely agree that combating fraud is a major issue. There is no argument between us on that. That is precisely why the Home Office is taking it very seriously in conjunction with other departments. The National Fraud Authority and the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau have, as I mentioned in Committee, produced a strategic threat assessment of the harm and the impact of identity fraud. I entirely agree with the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, that identity is an issue and we certainly will have to do work on identity authentication. That would have been the case even with the NIR.
These assessments are now being taken as the base for an action plan, which I also mentioned in Committee. I hope that the House will accept that it would not be sensible for us to publish the details of the action plan, which is designed to try to get at the root of those who are engaged in criminal and fraudulent activity. But I can assure the House that we are taking this issue seriously.
I have listened carefully to what the noble Baroness has said. It worries me that the Home Office seems to be considering another form of identity card. I sincerely hope that we will not have another proposal for a national identity card and register by the back door.
I am not quite sure how the noble Lord gained that impression. All I said, I think, was that identity authentication, which is not anything like the identity card, is an issue. If you have a transaction with the bank, it does not know who you are, and you want to know who they are.
I think that this is a debate perhaps of a more expert kind, but I do not agree that that is the case. I should like to make one other point on combating fraud. We also said in Committee that we would review whether there was overlap or duplication of the offences which are being re-enacted as a result of this Bill with those in the existing Fraud Act 2006. We are looking also at the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981 in an exercise to make sure that the legislation is tidy and, if we can, to simplify it. Both on the legislative front and on the question of actual action in government to combat fraud, vigorous action is being taken. I therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
Obviously, the reason for bringing forward this amendment relates to the evidence given in Committee in the other place. One of the organisations that had had most involvement with the identity cards scheme-the pilot carried out with the Manchester Airport Group-clearly referred to the benefits of the scheme with regard to identity. Quite relevantly, it said it thought that, even if identity cards were no longer there, perhaps the benefits that it had seen arising from the scheme could be achieved through other means. In the light of that kind of evidence, I should have thought that the Government would have been interested in the impact of the repeal of the Identity Cards Act 2006 and of trying to ensure that the benefits that at least some of those involved in the pilot exercise saw coming from it could be retained through other means. I am a little disappointed that the Minister has not indicated that the Government intend to carry out any sort of investigation or review of the benefits that were achieved from it and of any benefits relating to the issue of identity fraud to see whether they could be maintained through other channels.
The part of the amendment about a report being required within one year is less important than actually looking at what happened with the identity card scheme and trying to ensure that any benefits that arose from it could be retained in other ways. I am very grateful for the interventions and contributions that have been made by noble Lords in this debate in which reference has been made to the problems of identity fraud. I think I am right in saying that there is a rollout of a new generation of identity documentation in Germany which will include a radio-frequency identity chip to help to facilitate, or so it is claimed, secure online transactions. I hope that as part of the action plan to which the Minister has referred that has been set up and is being developed that some regard will be paid to what is happening in Germany and whether that has a contribution to make in this field.
I am a little disappointed that the Minister, irrespective of the issue of the report, was not prepared to say that the Government would seek to take advantage, through an examination of what happened during the identity card scheme, of any contribution that could be made towards the fight against identity fraud and ensure that any benefits that the scheme had achieved were retained through other means. I am sorry that she has not been able to say that the Government will do that. Nevertheless, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 5 withdrawn.
Moved by Lord Phillips of Sudbury
6: After Clause 10, insert the following new Clause-
(1) The Secretary of State must, within 3 months of the coming into force of this Act, appoint an independent person to keep under review the arrangements for the time being maintained by the Secretary of State (and any person or authority to whom or to which he delegates any related function) for the purpose of his functions under this Act or any subordinate legislation made under it.
(2) The person so appointed shall report annually the findings of his review to the Secretary of State, with such report being made contemporaneously available to Parliament."
My Lords, this amendment was moved in Committee. I bring it back and I hope that what my noble friend may have to say in response to my moving it will assuage the concerns that exist in this House about the dismantling of this complex scheme. Let us make no bones about it, the national identity register and all that is therewith and the dismantling of the whole apparatus is no simple matter, hence a 12-page Bill. The object of the exercise is to ensure that there should be an independent review to satisfy this place and the other place that all has been done properly and well, particularly of some of the subcontractors in relation to the national identity register and the deletion in a safe way of the mass of information that they already hold.
Clause 51 of the Data Protection Act 1998 imposes a general duty on the Information Commissioner to promote the eight data protection principles. They are all very sensible principles and the network of those eight principles provides reassurance that use of data is not improper. However, that is a general duty. There is no specific obligation that one can point to arising from those eight principles in terms of the national information register that we are dealing with here.
Those who have added their names to the amendment and, at an earlier stage, Earl Erroll-
My Lords, the noble Lord who moved the amendment may be slightly surprised to know that I support it, but for reasons that are rather different from those that he put before the House. A friend of mine described the Bill as the King Canute Bill; in other words, it is doing away with something-identity cards-which, in a relatively short time, whatever Government are in power, will have to be reintroduced. That is almost inevitable. I would hope that an appointed independent person would give that recommendation to the Government of the day and say, "Sorry, we have got it wrong. It is time that we reintroduced ID cards". I agree entirely with my friend's view, except that poor old King Canute is the most maligned man in English history, because he never suggested that he could hold back the tide. What he said to his courtiers was, "I cannot hold back the tide". I suppose that it is the first example of PR going badly wrong.
There will come a point where the need for smart card technology will become such that we will have to introduce an identity cards Bill. This amendment would at least allow an independent person to look at it and say, "Sorry, we've got it wrong. Let's have another look. Let's introduce ID cards".
My Lords, if I had got my act together a bit more quickly, I would have added my name to the amendment, because it is very sensible. There are some residual powers in the Bill which we need to keep an eye on. Although an Information Commissioner exists, he does not have the power to march in and look at things unless there are complaints. He would also be overextended.
We need to look out for residual powers that could give rise to concern. They come in Clause 10. Subsections (8) and (9) sensibly state that certain information which is gathered to prove someone's identity when a passport is being issued should be destroyed after 28 days. Given that the Government will destroy the information within 28 days, I am happy for them to consult other databases-I mentioned in Committee electricity bills, which is probably the quickest way of finding whether someone has changed address or where they really are. I have no problem with the Government doing that to verify a person's identity for the purpose of producing a passport.
However, then we get to subsection (10), which is the good old catch-all. It says that the Government can retain the information beyond 28 days for the purpose of "preventing or detecting crime"-I remember this sort of wording in RIPA, which led to a lot of grief-and "apprehending and prosecuting offenders". Well, that depends on how quickly they apprehend them again. We should have oversight by an outside commissioner who reports to Parliament and not by a Home Secretary, because this sort of thing can get out of hand and, later, suddenly rise up to bite a Government in the future. We have several commissioners doing this sort of job elsewhere in the security world. We either add it on to someone's job or create another one, but it is sensible for protecting the public.
My Lords, it is the noble Earl. It is very confusing. I am actually the Earl of Erroll, but we are in distinguished company as we have two Earls who have surnames as their titles-Earl Ferrers and Earl Attlee. However, I would still refer to them as the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. Thank you very much for correcting the House on this.
In Committee I raised the issues on subsection (10) to which reference has just been made, and I did so for the same reasons-the concerns about, for instance, judicial oversight of a Secretary of State's decision to retain information for these purposes. I was told then that subsection (10) reflects the provision in the Data Protection Act. I went away and looked at that, and I ought to say thank you. I was entirely happy that although the wording is a little different, it amounts to precisely the same thing. That is not to say that the issue is entirely satisfactorily dealt with. Perhaps it should be dealt with in a different way in this piece of legislation or, as I would like to see, more widely. However, I think that that is a different point.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to welcome the noble Lord, the Earl Ferrers, to our debates on-
If noble Lords will indulge me for two seconds, the only person who is the exception here is the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose. Otherwise, we are all Lords and Ladies. We are Peers, so socially we refer to each other as Lord and Lady. Even a Baroness is a Lady, and we put the true title in front.
With the greatest respect to the noble Lord, the Earl Ferrers-
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, is a very bright noble Lord, and he normally picks up things straight away, but he has made the mistake twice. If he wishes to refer to me as he should, he ought, with respect, to say "the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers" and not to say "the noble Lord, Earl Ferrers".
My Lords, while we are in a correcting mood, may I remind the House that we are actually on Report and not in Committee, as amusing as the exchanges have been heretofore?
My Lords, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, was quite right to correct us on this matter. I would however say to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, that I have always referred to him in that manner. I will read Hansard with great interest, because I think that, when he rose, he actually said "the noble Lord, the Earl Ferrers". Perhaps we could reconvene tomorrow to discuss that further when we have all studied Hansard with great care.
We find ourselves in interesting company in this debate because noble Lords who have spoken have, very clearly, different views about ID cards. My noble friend Lord Maxton and I are convinced that, before long, a proposal will come from a Government to reintroduce identity cards on the basis of convenience to the public.
I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Before we forget, we need to remember that the ID system that we are abolishing was not obnoxious for the mere card; it was obnoxious for the national identity register which carried a mass of personal information and which Microsoft reckoned would become the greatest honey pot in the world for crime.
I shall make two points about that. First, I fully understand the point that the noble Lord is raising. It is quite remarkable that we have reached a situation in which private sector companies such as Google are allowed to amass a massive amount of information and then use it for marketing purposes. Frankly, I have some concerns about that. I understand the noble Lord's concerns.
I look forward to further debates on those matters. The noble Lord is quite right. I hope that your Lordships' House will have further opportunities to discuss the implications of that, because it is a matter of great concern. There are some international companies that seem to feel that they can do what they like, and there is a need for this to be looked at very carefully. I understand the concerns about Governments amassing data. Equally, I refer the noble Lord to Mr Hodder, who wrote to me before Grand Committee, as an example of a business person who has used his card 30 times in going to the European zone and found it very convenient. For that reason, I do not think that we have heard the last word about the use of such cards.
I hope that the Minister considers taking this matter away. Whatever view noble Lords take of what the last Government did and of the nature of the cards and the information, it is rightly important that the public have confidence that the process used is done properly and well, as the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, said. The BBC carried a very interesting story about some of the techniques that will be used to ensure that the information is appropriately destroyed. I welcome that, but it would be helpful-and it is an important matter of public confidence-to have a proper independent scrutiny of this matter, which is why I very much support the noble Lord in his amendment.
Two separate issues seem to have been debated under this amendment. The first was whether one needs the extraordinary amount of information that would have been contained on the national identity register as a means of establishing ID cards, and whether that is the kind of thing that we want to see reintroduced, which I certainly do not believe to be the case. The second issue, which is the proper intention of the amendment, is about ensuring that information retained by the Government is properly governed and accountable. On that second point, I share absolutely the preoccupations of those who have proposed the amendment, but I have reservations about the method that they have chosen to achieve the end. In effect, the amendment establishes a new individual-some sort of passport commissioner-who would have the job of overseeing how the data were used and retained by the IPS. That would also be the case in connection with information received by third parties for the validation of passport applications.
In our view, the Information Commissioner has significant powers, and we would regard them as sufficient to examine and consider or scrutinise any of the data processed within the IPS. I think that the noble Lord has had a conversation with the Information Commissioner to that effect. My impression of the Information Commissioner is that he takes a considerable interest in the operation of the Act and has powers to serve the IPS with a notice to allow him, or his staff, to find out whether the IPS is complying with the Data Protection Act, which is the governing Act here. He is able to oblige the IPS to allow himself or his staff to enter any premises and to show any of the specified documents or to see any of the information of the specified descriptions that he wishes to inspect.
Those are very considerable powers. I share the preoccupation of the House in ensuring that Government retain information for the purposes only for which it is genuinely needed and they are governed in ways which ensure that that is the case-that it is not used for purposes for which it was not specified and for which the Government are not entitled to use it. It is important for us to ensure that this is the case, and to talk to the Information Commissioner to ensure that he is able and willing to exercise his powers in this way, which I believe to be the case. I ask the noble Lord if on that basis, and with an assurance from the Government that we will take the intent of this amendment seriously, he is willing to withdraw his amendment?