Clause 17 - Power to provide for checks on the Register

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

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Mr Richard Allan Mr Richard Allan Shadow Spokesperson for the Cabinet Office, Cabinet Office, Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry) 5:30, 25 January 2005

I apologise to the Committee for having had to miss what I understand was a quite interesting sitting earlier today. In returning to the Committee, it is worth spending a brief moment on the clause. I know that we are trying to make progress, but I want to understand a critical point about the data that are to be held in the national identity register.

Clause 17 would allow the Secretary of State to restrict how the data held in the national identity register could be used by Departments or agencies that perform identity checks under the clause 15 powers. That raises important issues about who the data controller—to use data protection speak—for the national identity register will be. Is it the correct reading of clause 17 that a Department or agency will be able to ask for the ability to perform checks against the national identity register?

I assume that the Secretary of State is the Home Secretary, although it would be helpful to understand whether we are talking about a single Secretary of State or about generic powers for any Secretary of State. Under clause 17, will it be possible to say, ''I do not believe that the procedures in place in your Department or agency are sufficient to allow you to carry out the identity-check functions.''? According to the specific provisions of the clause, it seems that the Secretary of State may say, ''You can perform those checks only if you register and use this prescribed equipment as well as those prescribed procedures.''

It would be helpful to understand the relationship between the agencies—which, in modern government, can be remote from accountability—and the Secretary of State, who will control the national identity register and should be rigorously accountable to the public for the use and potential abuse of their data.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Conservative, Cotswold

I want to ask the Minister about one brief point, which seems important. A lot of the scheme is predicated on the basis that certain prescribed people will have access to the readers. Therefore, the readers will be very important, and some at a higher level will have access to more information than others. Will he consider carefully what would happen if a reader were stolen? Will he try to ensure that the technology is such that a reader can be disabled if it is stolen?

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)

The readers will have to be able to be disabled or, alternatively, the system will need to be able to deny access to any readers that are stolen or reported stolen. The hon. Gentleman is exactly right.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) seeks reassurances, which I will try to give him in short order. If they are not sufficient, he will no doubt let us know. Clause 17 will enable checks to be made of information recorded in the register by people providing public services to verify a person's identity. We have already discussed that in some detail. The   clause is necessary to ensure that individuals and public services may use the register to assert identity and entitlement to public services. Specifically, the clause will give the Secretary of State the power to regulate identity checks.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether the clause refers to a Secretary of State as that term is normally meant in legislation or to the Home Secretary. It refers to the former. Secretaries of State are interchangeable in our constitution. The clause refers to any Secretary of State, because any Secretary of State can perform the function of any other Secretary of State. However, the Secretary of State will be performing functions in relation to home affairs, so it is almost certain that the Secretary of State in question will be the Home Secretary.

Clause 17 will give the Secretary of State the power to regulate identity checks, including how applications for provision of information are to be made. He may regulate for an accreditation scheme for user organisations. That answers the hon. Gentleman's fundamental point. The Secretary of State may regulate for the equipment that such organisations use to ensure that it meets the highest standards and the requirements that mean that access to the scheme via stolen machines can be disabled. All those provisions are to safeguard people's information.

In addition, under subsection (5), steps have to be taken to ensure that a member of the public likely to be affected is informed of and consulted on the proposals for the regulations. I do not think that we can make this part of the scheme any more appropriate in terms of access. It will give all the opportunities that the hon. Gentleman seeks to ensure that the data are protected and that the Secretary of State, who has responsibility for protecting that data, regulates access to them so that they are protected.

I trust that the hon. Gentleman is satisfied with that answer and that we can move on from clause 17.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 17 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 18 ordered to stand part of the Bill.