Clause 16 - Procedure for regulations under s. 15

Identity Cards Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:15 pm on 25th January 2005.

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Photo of David Curry David Curry Conservative, Skipton and Ripon 5:15 pm, 25th January 2005

I beg to move amendment No. 188, in clause 16, page 14, line 38, at end insert—

'(1A) The power to make regulations under section 15 may not be exercised so as to create different requirements for identity checks in different parts of the United Kingdom, except insofar as this is necessary due to differences in the public services provided.'.

I think that the Minister largely dealt with this matter, but there were some earlier discussions on whether or not the rules would be same north and south of the border. The amendment is really to tease that out.

I hesitate to quote the Prime Minister again, although I think he might be slightly sounder on this reply than the previous one. During the opening day of the debate on the Queen's Speech, the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), the leader of the SNP, said:

''The Scottish Executive said this morning that identity cards would not be compulsory in Scotland for gaining access to devolved services, leading to the possibility that people will not need them to go to hospital but will need them to collect a pension. Will identity cards be compulsory in Scotland or not?''

The Prime Minister responded:

''The devolved services are a matter for the Scottish Executive under devolution legislation, as the hon. Gentleman knows. However, it would be our intention here to ensure that when they are compulsory—obviously, that has to go through a legislative process in the House—they are essential in order to access services.''—[Official Report, 23 November 2004; Vol. 428, c. 23–24.]

I think that the Prime Minister is saying is that there will be identical requirements north and south of the border. However, I thought the Minister said that in Scotland it might be possible to require a different form of identity in order to access of services. The amendment gives the Minister a chance to clarify where we have ended up.

[Derek Conway in the Chair]

Photo of Mr Jon Owen Jones Mr Jon Owen Jones Labour/Co-operative, Cardiff Central

Further to those questions, I largely understand how the system would work, but there are a few anomalies that I would like explained.

I understand that where services are arranged, organised and paid for by the Scottish Executive or the Welsh Assembly, then they can determine the identity requirements to access those services.

For example, if primary school services in Scotland or Wales were being accessed, Scotland or Wales would determine whether they wanted ID cards to be used or not. The same would apply if general practitioner services in either of those countries were being accessed.

That is fair enough, because the money that pays for those services comes out of the Scottish or Welsh blocks. But what happens with a service such as housing benefit, which is administered by local authorities? Local authorities are administered by either the Scottish Executive or the Welsh Assembly, but the financing for housing benefit comes direct from the Treasury. In that case, it does not make sense that the determination of whether people have entitlement or not should be a devolved matter.

Another example of a possible anomaly would be university education. Access to, and support for, university education is administered by local authorities, but, depending on the university attended, the funding may come from Welsh sources, the Scottish block or directly from Treasury support. I am not sure that it is as clear in that case where the control of entitlement should come from.

This matter may also apply to hospitals. Hospital services remain fairly integrated—although they are becoming more disintegrated by the day between Scotland, Wales and England. People may access tertiary care in any of those countries regardless of which country they are from—although they are much more likely to access it in London as this is where most tertiary care occurs. Most acute care for people who live in the border regions of mid-Wales and north Wales is accessed in England. Can the Minister explain this matter?

It is reasonable and easy to understand why there should be different arrangements for entitlement in areas where the service is supplied and administered by the Scottish or Welsh block. But there are a number of anomalies such as housing benefits, universities and access to some hospital care.

Photo of Des Browne Des Browne Minister of State (Citizenship, Immigration and Counter-Terrorism), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Citizenship, Immigration and Nationality)

I welcome you, Mr. Conway, to our deliberations this afternoon.

While this matter may appear to very complicated, I hope that it can be unravelled quite simply. It is not about who funds the service, it is about where the   legislative responsibility for the service lies; whether it is reserved to the United Kingdom Parliament or devolved to one of the Assemblies in Wales or Northern Ireland or the Scottish Parliament. It is not about who pays.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Jones) was right to identify housing benefit in the example that he gave, but housing benefit regulations are promulgated here by the Department for Work and Pensions on a UK-wide basis and although local authorities administer these as agents for it, any provisions would apply universally across the United Kingdom. I do not want to go into all the possibilities, but this matter should be entered on the record. Seven or eight sentences should be sufficient to do that.

The Government have always been clear that the primary functions of the scheme—that is, establishing nationality and identity, supporting national security and helping to control immigration—are reserved issues and therefore the legislation provides for the national identity register and the issue of ID cards to apply uniformly throughout the UK. These are clearly reserved matters.

However, it is right that the devolved Administrations decide whether the cards should be required for devolved services. It would not be right for the UK Parliament to restrict the devolved Administrations in their requirement to use cards for services for which they are responsible.

Clause 16 would allow the Assemblies in Wales and Northern Ireland to make orders under clause 15 to require the production of an ID card to access devolved services in Wales and Northern Ireland respectively. Whether or not the ID scheme or the card is to be used for proof of identity at the point of access for devolved services—however they are delivered—is a matter for the Assemblies to legislate for.

Clause 44(2) makes it clear that this power does not extend to the Scottish Parliament. It is for the Scottish Parliament to legislate as to whether the production of an ID card or access to the register should be a condition precedent of accessing devolved services such as health or education—but not restricted to health or education in Scotland. That does not affect clause 19, which deals with the power to provide information to the police in relation to

''the prevention or detection of crime''.

That applies to the police in Scotland and Northern Ireland in the same way as it does to the police in England and Wales. I cannot make the point any clearer than that.

Photo of Mr Jon Owen Jones Mr Jon Owen Jones Labour/Co-operative, Cardiff Central

May I persuade my hon. Friend to make the position slightly clearer? He has entirely clarified the position on housing benefit.

What about universities? Let us suppose that the Welsh Assembly decides that a person going to a Welsh university does not require ID qualification to establish whether they are a home student or not. If that person were to go to an English university, would that university require them to show whether they   were a home student in order to qualify for home support? Who would pay?

Photo of Des Browne Des Browne Minister of State (Citizenship, Immigration and Counter-Terrorism), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Citizenship, Immigration and Nationality)

With respect, the problem is that I do not know enough about how English universities—or any universities—relate to the provision of public services. The answer is: where does the legislative responsibility lie for those institutions and the provision of that service? If it lies with the devolved Assemblies or the devolved Scottish Parliament, it is for them to make the decision about access. If responsibility for legislation and accountability is reserved to the UK Parliament, the UK Parliament will make the decision. My hon. Friend needs to consider the individual service that he is concerned about and ask whether it is a devolved matter.

I understand that there will be people who live on the border. There are existing arrangements allowing people to get health provision, for example, on either side of borders, but it is access to the provision that it is appropriate to consider. If the English health service is providing a contracted service to a Scottish health authority, the access comes through the Scottish health authority, which has to satisfy the English health authority that that person is entitled to the service being provided. Perhaps the Scottish authority will pay for it in any event, but it is a matter for it to decide; the issue is who has responsibility for access to the service. I cannot be any clearer than that. I have no doubt that hon. Members will think of individual sets of circumstances but, with respect, I cannot come to a Committee having covered every single set of circumstances.

As my hon. Friend raises the issues of universities, I will research it, particularly in the context of Welsh students attending English universities, and I will give him a specific answer.

Photo of David Curry David Curry Conservative, Skipton and Ripon

Welcome back, as it were, Mr. Conway.

I suspect that the matter before us is rather like learning to ride a bike with two wheels; when one can do it, nothing seems more idiotically simple, but before one can do it, nothing seems more utterly impossible. I want to make sure that I understand what the Minister said. He seemed to say that it is up to the devolved Parliament or Assemblies to determine whether they will require an ID card for access to public services, even though clause 1(4)(e) states that one of the purposes of the whole process that we are debating is

''the efficient and effective provision of public services.''

The implication from our debates is that, in England, the card will be required in order to access a whole range of public services, and we had a little debate a while ago about the discretionary elements of the scheme. So it seems that there could well be a discrepancy in what one is required to produce to gain access to services in different parts of the United Kingdom. I think that I have understood that right. We need to reflect a little on the implications of what the Minister has said. In order to keep our powder dry, and in case we are required to return to the whole issue later, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 16 ordered to stand part of the Bill.