My Lords, in 2010 the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition decided to scrap the identity card scheme and the associated national identity register because it was expensive and represented a substantial erosion of civil liberties. This Government have no plans to revisit that decision. That is because we have seen no evidence that countries with physical identity cards, including most of Europe, offer greater protection against terrorism, greater control at the border or greater protection from fraud.
I welcome the noble Baroness to the Front Bench and wish her well. When the Labour Party produced this idea originally, I, like many others in the House, was very sceptical. However, events have conspired to make it absolutely clear that the system we are operating is—in the phrase coined by the noble Lord, Lord Reid—“not fit for purpose”. Anybody who has watched events over the last few weeks would have to say that the truth is that we do not know who is or who is not in this country, and we do not seem to know who we should be removing from this country. With a Bill coming forward in the next few months, does she not agree that the time has come to look at all options and that, instead of taking things off the table, we should be putting things on to it because what we have now is not functioning?
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Empey, for his best wishes—I think I am going to need them. He makes a very important point and he will be aware that we already issue migrants with biometric residence permits—BRPs—which are credit card-sized documents that include a facial photograph and two fingerprints of the holder. Noble Lords will know that yesterday, in a debate in the other place, the Home Secretary announced a full review of lessons learned in Windrush, with independent oversight and external challenge. We should allow this to happen first and then consider what policies and initiatives we need to take forward.
My Lords, the Liaison Committee blocked my application for an ID card inquiry. The Commons Select Committee inquiries are brief and often last only two or three months. How about a royal commission, a procedure normally used to consider broad policy issues? The 1997 Royal Commission on Long-term Care of the Elderly reported in 15 months; the 1999 Royal Commission on Reform of the House of Lords, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, who is in his place, took 11 months. With the mood change in Westminster sweeping across Parliament, particularly after Windrush and what happened last week, why do the Government not now consider a new inquiry? I appeal to the Ulster Unionists, who are in a pivotal position in the Commons and can demand one.
I know that the noble Lord is committed to this issue. This is my first Question at the Dispatch Box and I fear that he is already trying to lead me astray. I am not in a position to comment on a royal commission or in relation to a new inquiry. However, he will be aware that the existence of identity cards in Spain did not prevent the 2004 Madrid bombing, nor did the French ID card prevent the Charlie Hebdo attacks in 2015. I recognise what the noble Lord is saying but it is a matter for the Commons, should it wish to have an inquiry in that place.
My Lords, speaking as another former Home Office Minister who had responsibilities in the 1990s for an ID card proposal of the then Government, I have to say that those exciting responsibilities were set aside because of the public attitude and the attitude of politicians in relation to the freedom of the individual and privacy. On numerous occasions since, Governments have attempted to introduce ID cards with similar results. In the event of us proceeding further with the idea once more, does the Minister agree that apart from having discriminatory or negative information on such a card we would want to use it positively to include blood group, allergies and other important information of the person holding such a card? Does she also agree that any information shown on such a card should be open and transparent to the person whose name is on the card?
I thank my noble friend for his question. Certainly I agree in principle that in a healthcare setting there may be some use for such a card. I think Headway has a card with health-related issues on it. I do not know whether my noble friend has seen the Times today in which Simon Nixon writes about having a digital ID card. I have some empathy with moving forward on that. Indeed, the Government are moving forward on that as we have the verify system in place. Our aim is to provide people with a common and safe way of verifying themselves to Government and accessing common public services.