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Identity Documents Bill

– in a Public Bill Committee on 29th June 2010.

Alert me about debates like this

[Martin Catonin the Chair]

Written evidence to be reported to the House

ID 01 Justice

ID 02 Dr Barnard-Wills

ID 03 Daniel Paul Fuller

ID 04 London School of Economics and Political Science

ID 05 Gillian Bradley

ID 06 Manchester Airports Group

ID 07 Equality and Human Rights Commission

ID 08 David Moss

ID 09 Information Commissioner’s Office

ID 10 Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission

The Committee deliberated in private.

On resuming—

Photo of Martin Caton Martin Caton Labour, Gower

We will now hear oral evidence from Mike Fazackerley of Manchester airport and Angela Epstein. Welcome to the Committee. For the record, will you introduce yourselves?

Angela Epstein: It is actually pronounced “Epsteen”, if you do not mind.

Angela Epstein: It is not a problem. I am Angela Epstein, a freelance journalist and broadcaster based in Manchester.

Mike Fazackerley: I am Mike Fazackerley. I am the customer services director at Manchester airport.

Photo of Martin Caton Martin Caton Labour, Gower

Thank you. Before calling the first question, I remind hon. Members that questions should be limited to matters within the scope of the Bill and that we must stick strictly to the timing of the programme motion with which the Committee has agreed. I hope that I do not have to interrupt mid-sentence, but I will do so if need be. I call first Meg Hillier.

Q 3939

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Thank you, Mr. Caton. As ever, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I wish first to direct my questions to Mr Fazackerley. It would be helpful if the Committee got an idea of the scheme described in your evidence, which you were working up, to use ID cards to gain certain benefits within the airports system.

Mike Fazackerley: In broad terms, we were using the ID card scheme to lever some improvements to what had become quite a time-consuming and onerous process to get an airport ID card. We felt that giving the added identity certainty that would come with the ID card would enable us to do that. We managed to win the argument to extend the validity of the airport ID card to match that of the national ID card. At Manchester, that meant we moved from a three-year cycle for renewing the ID card, which was quite a painful process, to a cycle that was up to 10 years long. We also used it as a lever to debate with other airports the ability to hold individual data files and, with the person’s permission, to transfer that data file to a new employer or to a different airport, so that moving between airports or employers could be a much easier process for employees, because they would not have to redo all of the stuff that they did for airport ID cards.

Q 40

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Shadow Minister (Home Office)

How long did it take normally to check somebody to get a security pass at Manchester?

Mike Fazackerley: Typically, at the busy time of the year, to get an airport ID card takes between eight to 12 weeks, from beginning to end.

Q 41

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Was one of the benefits that you were speeding up that process by having an ID card, or had it not kicked in yet? Did you think that it was going to work?

Mike Fazackerley: During the 18-month evaluation period, the immediate benefit was that, for people who were going through the process for the second time, or who were renewing the pass because of a change of an employer or whatever, it could become a same-day process, because they did not need to redo all of that work.

For new applicants during the evaluation period, there would have been only a very marginal reduction in time because of improved application forms and so forth, but we were hopeful. If the evaluation had led to a national ID card scheme, we were already in discussions with Disclosure Scotland, the Criminal Records Bureau and the Home Office about using it to get to a joint application process, and as a means of shortening the initial application as well.

Q 42

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Shadow Minister (Home Office)

From that, did your airport group save any costs, or would that have been a prospect for the future?

Mike Fazackerley: As the pass issuer, we would not have saved any money as a result, but the employers at the airport certainly would have. Our aim was that the money they saved by reducing the frequency of applying for passes and making it easier would at least pay for the ID card.

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Thank you. That is very interesting.

Q 43

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Immigration

So people were able to get a same-day document—that was one of the advantages?

Mike Fazackerley: If it was a renewal or replacement.

Q 44

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Immigration

There were no CRB or security checks for people renewing?

Mike Fazackerley: We had got to the point where, if you had already gone through the process, and if you wanted to change your pass within the life of the pass that had been issued, we as the airport would hold a data file that had your CRB check and all your references on it, which traditionally had been held by your previous employer.

Q 45

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Immigration

You would not do any new checks?

Mike Fazackerley: No.

Q 46

Photo of Gordon Henderson Gordon Henderson Conservative, Sittingbourne and Sheppey

During the trial period, in your experience, how long did it take to actually obtain an ID card?

Mike Fazackerley: A national ID card?

Mike Fazackerley: I actually do not have that information. The Identity and Passport Service was quite careful not to share information that was not relevant to us. In my own experience—I applied and got one—I waited about 10 days for the appointment and then the card came a couple of days after the appointment.

Q 47

Photo of Gordon Henderson Gordon Henderson Conservative, Sittingbourne and Sheppey

The reason you wanted to use the ID card system was to speed up your process. We have been told all along that the ID card system was going to be purely voluntary, therefore you would have had a two-tier system, because you would have been treating people who did not have ID cards differently from those who did. Would you eventually have been trying to ensure that everyone who came along for a job had an ID card? That would have made it no longer voluntary, but compulsory.

Mike Fazackerley: No, we certainly were not going to go down that route. Our aim was to create a situation where the advantages of applying for an airport ID card with a national ID card were sufficient and people wanted to do it. Would that have worked? I do not know—we did not do it for long enough.

Q 48

Photo of Julian Huppert Julian Huppert Liberal Democrat, Cambridge

I have two questions—one brief and one long. Roughly how many ID cards did your staff end up collecting?

Mike Fazackerley: It was just over 2,500.

Q 49

Photo of Julian Huppert Julian Huppert Liberal Democrat, Cambridge

So it was quite a large proportion of all those that were ever issued?

Mike Fazackerley: Yes.

Q 50

Photo of Julian Huppert Julian Huppert Liberal Democrat, Cambridge

I have heard various reasons why a better process would be useful and I can understand that. You talked about the Department for Transport agreeing that you could do 10-year transferable passes. Is there a fundamental reason why the DFT could not do that based on a passport, or is it just that the DFT was trying to make things easy for you in this instance, but would not otherwise?

Mike Fazackerley: No. Again, we have been quite clear that the benefits could, in theory, remain if we had access to biometric passport checking. Even with the first-generation biometric passports, if we had a means of checking them and verifying that it was a valid  document and that it belonged to that person, I believe we could still offer those advantages. In fact, that is very much where we would like to get to.

Q 51

Photo of Julian Huppert Julian Huppert Liberal Democrat, Cambridge

Would that be a particularly different process from verifying that an ID card is not fake, or would it be similar?

Mike Fazackerley: I think the mechanics of that are slightly different, because you are not checking with the new national identity database; you would be checking with the passport database. I am not a technician, but I cannot see why it is not possible.

Q 52

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Conservative, Hexham

I have a couple of questions. You indicated 2,500, but you only have 1,400 staff. Why was that?

Mike Fazackerley: Why was it only 2,500?

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Conservative, Hexham

You indicated that you took up 2,500 cards, but as I understand it, you employ 1,400 staff.

Mike Fazackerley: Fourteen thousand. I am sorry—those 2,500 cards were not just for Manchester Airports Group staff, but airport staff in general. A good proportion of the staff were from other companies.

Q 53

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Conservative, Hexham

Did the Government give you any financial benefit or incentive for being one of the first to take on the scheme?

Mike Fazackerley: Not to Manchester Airports. The employees—airport staff—who volunteered to get the card as part of the evaluation got it free.

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Conservative, Hexham

Help me to understand that. The airport did not get any benefit, but any employee of the airport received the benefit of getting the ID card for free.

Mike Fazackerley: Yes.

Q 54

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Conservative, Hexham

Did that apply to all the 2,500 cards?

Mike Fazackerley: Yes.

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Conservative, Hexham

So not just your staff, but other staff as well?

Mike Fazackerley: Yes. Any airside worker who applied for and was issued with a national ID card and joined the 18-month evaluation would get it for free.

Q 55

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Conservative, Hexham

Basically, the Government just gave them away?

Mike Fazackerley: Yes—well, there was no charge, but I imagine that that is the same difference.

Q 56

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Immigration

So it was the taxpayer who bore the cost of that, not your company?

Mike Fazackerley: Correct. There was some cost to us in terms of the changes we made and the support we gave, but not in terms of purchasing ID cards.

Q 57

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Immigration

Therefore, of the 15,000 ID cards that were issued, the taxpayer paid for at least 2,500 of them?

Mike Fazackerley: I cannot say how many were issued at London City airport on the same basis, but certainly at Manchester, yes.

Q 58

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Immigration

I see, but the arrangements with London City would have been on the same basis?

Mike Fazackerley: Yes, I believe so.

Q 59

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Immigration

Do you know how many were issued to London City?

Mike Fazackerley: No, I do not.

Q 60

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Conservative, Hexham

Following on from that, presumably there must have been some sort of briefing or seminar before you signed up to the scheme when it was indicated what exactly you were signing up to. I take that London City and other groups were there as well. You must have had a preliminary briefing.

Mike Fazackerley: Yes.

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Conservative, Hexham

You were there at the briefing. Was London City there?

Mike Fazackerley: I do not think we were at the same briefing, but we certainly had meetings and briefings.

Q 61

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Conservative, Hexham

To the best of your knowledge, London City was part of the same trial.

Mike Fazackerley: Yes.

Q 62

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Conservative, Hexham

Were you aware of other people in the same trial?

Mike Fazackerley: Yes.

Q 63

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Conservative, Hexham

Could you give us some names?

Mike Fazackerley: Of organisations?

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Conservative, Hexham

No, as part of the system whereby you get free ID cards. The indication has been given that London City airport did so as well. Were there any others?

Mike Fazackerley: No. As far as I am aware, only those two airports were evaluation sites.

Q 64

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Conservative, Hexham

Help me to understand. If the argument were to be that there should be a repayment, would it be to you or to the staff?

Mike Fazackerley: I would struggle with any suggestion that there should be a repayment to airside workers, as they did not pay for the cards in the first place.

Q 65

Photo of Catherine McKinnell Catherine McKinnell Labour, Newcastle upon Tyne North

How did the staff react to the proposals and the card scheme?

Mike Fazackerley: As you would expect in any community, it was a bit of a bell curve. There was a percentage who rushed out and who wanted it on day one; I dare say that there was a small percentage that would never have had one under any circumstances; and the majority in the middle were pleased to get the benefits that were offered. We held a number of briefings with trade union staff and management of the various employees at the airport. Generally speaking, the response was positive.

Q 66

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Shadow Minister (Home Office)

You have gone through some of the evaluation. The Bill proposes repealing the scheme, but whether or not the card continues to exist in its current form, can you see the longer term benefits that there would have been, including security improvements, time and cost-saving, and greater convenience, had the pilot scheme been rolled out more widely and made available to others?

Mike Fazackerley: I think that the principal benefits to airport workers are exactly as we have outlined: there is the ability to streamline and speed up, and to make the process of getting an airport pass easier. There were some marginal benefits; for example, we dramatically reduced the amount of data that we were holding on individuals, because we felt that we did not need data that the Government had, but I guess that that is fairly marginal.

Q 67

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Shadow Minister (Home Office)

It is interesting, because that issue came up in evidence this morning, and it is perhaps not so marginal. For you, was the fingerprint—we are talking about biometrics, but essentially it was a fingerprint in this case—a significant part of identity assurance, meaning that you could rely on it and let go of the information that you were previously holding?

Mike Fazackerley: Yes.

Q 68

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Another thing that is sort of connected to the Bill is that there has been a halt on the Government introducing fingerprints into passports, which was scheduled to happen from 2012. The Minister will be able to explain what that means exactly. Do you have any views on whether that would make a difference, if you were to go down the route that you mentioned of using passports?

Mike Fazackerley: We have expressed the view that the benefits that we were trying to lever for airside workers were not linked to the national identity card as such. That was just a vehicle for improvement. Those benefits could as easily be achieved with the second-generation biometric passport, with the fingerprint. Could we lever the same benefits with the first-generation chip passport that we have now? Possibly, but it would depend very much on whether we could link the systems to which we have access, to verify that the passport was genuine and belonged to the person. I believe that that could be possible.

Q 69

Photo of David Simpson David Simpson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills)

On a point of clarification, Mr Green asked Mike a question about the fact that it takes eight to 12 weeks to carry out the security side of the process, but if a card is lost or misplaced, it can be replaced within 24 hours. Did you say that no further security checks were carried out?

Mike Fazackerley: At that point. The benefit that we got from the system was that you were absolutely sure that the person who was standing in the pass office was the right person.

Photo of David Simpson David Simpson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills)

At the point of the eight-to-12-week process. But did you say that no further security checks were carried out if the card was lost or needed to be replaced thereafter?

Mike Fazackerley: At that point, the loss is reported to the police, the pass is electronically cancelled in our system, and a new one is issued.

Q 70

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Labour, Easington

Part of the rationale for the ID cards is the protection of our borders, protection from illegal immigration, protection against ID fraud and protection from terrorism. At Manchester airport, you are very much on the front line. You are a sort of gateway, controlling the passage of people who are travelling to and fro, and maintaining the integrity of our borders. We have heard about the importance of ensuring that the staff are properly screened so that there are no opportunities for ID fraud or for terrorists to penetrate what is quite a sensitive installation. What is your opinion about how the scheme worked in your case? Do you think that it was good, bad, or indifferent? Was it helpful?

Mike Fazackerley: Personally, I was a fan of the scheme and thought that it was helpful, but that is not to say that you cannot achieve the same thing by other means.

Q 71

Photo of Aidan Burley Aidan Burley Conservative, Cannock Chase

Mike, on the benefits, you said that the scheme had helped to streamline the process and had made things a bit easier. Had you done any cost-benefit analysis of the tangible benefits, to see whether it cut your operating costs or saved you money? I am trying to get a sense of the tangible benefits that were brought to you as a business.

Mike Fazackerley: We were only newly into the 18-month evaluation, and we wanted to avoid a situation in which we might be accused of being slightly biased in our enthusiasm, but having said that, the Identity and Passport Service had done a pre-evaluation survey of employers, to test out their views of the existing airport pass application process—the cost and so forth. The intention, as I understand it, was to do a follow-up at the end of the evaluation process, talking to employers and asking, “How was that for you? Has it improved the process? Has it streamlined it? Has it saved you money?”

Photo of Aidan Burley Aidan Burley Conservative, Cannock Chase

But it did not get that far?

Mike Fazackerley: No, because we were only six months in.

Q 72

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Immigration

I am interested to hear you say that you could gain the benefits by other means. Is that basically by using passports for the same sort of purposes?

Mike Fazackerley: Yes. That is something we would like to hold on to. At the moment we are not getting very positive indications that that would be possible, but we will keep pushing.

Q 73

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Immigration

On a slightly separate topic, you said that your staff broadly welcomed the scheme, but I remember that some of the unions, certainly, were very hostile—some of the air unions proposed motions at the TUC against the whole scheme. Clearly, there were differences of opinion.

Mike Fazackerley: The initial position was that the local trade union representatives were, in fact, very supportive, but certain trade unions at a national level were quite opposed to the principle. That changed. Participation was initially going to be compulsory for airside workers, but just before the evaluation period started, it was changed to a voluntary scheme, and at that point the trade union opposition seemed to disappear.

Q 74

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Shadow Minister (Home Office)

One final point: you mentioned that you would like to see some of the benefits of the evaluation continue, although the evaluation only got to a certain point. Would you like to keep that going and see the full benefits, perhaps in an attempt to reignite such uses, even with another document?

Mike Fazackerley: Very much so. If we could leave with the same benefits, perhaps through use of the passport, that would be a very positive move.

Q 75

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Conservative, Hexham

Going back to that, when airside workers realised that the scheme was no longer compulsory, and it went back to being voluntary, they basically dropped their opposition—purely because, I suggest, they knew they would not need to sign up to it. That has to be the rep case, does it not?

Mike Fazackerley: Possibly. That is not for me to answer. Our belief from the outset was that that the national ID card could be used to make life better for both employers and employees. We always understood that Parliament would have the last word on the matter, but it was our view that, if we were right, people would want to have a national ID card. I cannot say whether, in the fullness of time, that would have proved to be the case. I do not know.

Q 76

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Conservative, Hexham

But that view must have been influenced, surely, by the fact that you were getting well in excess of £100,000 of benefit paid for by the taxpayer.

Mike Fazackerley: If you are asking whether initial uptake would have been encouraged by the fact that the card was free, yes, of course. Certainly it would.

Q 77

Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Conservative, Amber Valley

I am quite impressed by the proactive way in which you used the scheme to find a better system for yourself. It looks to me as if we are trying to fix a terrible airside pass system by having a hugely expensive national ID system, when actually the answer would have been just to fix the poor system. Is that a fair conclusion?

Mike Fazackerley: I certainly would not dream of trying to justify expenditure on the national ID card system simply as a means of fixing the airport ID card—not at all. That is not to say that there are not other ways of fixing the airport ID card system for the benefit of everyone in the industry; of course there are. It was an opportunity.

Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Conservative, Amber Valley

In effect, some of the innovative ideas that were put into the scheme could be replicated, as you have said, using the passport database or something similar, so that we get the best of this world without, perhaps, the worst.

Mike Fazackerley: I believe that if there is a will to do that, yes, we can. At the moment we are not actually feeling that will, but I believe that it is possible.

Q 78

Photo of Aidan Burley Aidan Burley Conservative, Cannock Chase

Mike, you said that you would not justify the cost of the ID card system for Manchester airport. Would you justify the cost of the trial? Do you feel that you got £100,000-worth of taxpayer benefits from what you went through, given that you were not able to give us any example of tangible advantages that came out of it? Could you spend a hundred grand in a better way, if you were given it now?

Mike Fazackerley: It would be difficult to say yes to that when ultimately, it certainly seems that it is all going to have to be pulled back when we go back to square one. Have we got some benefits along the way? Yes, because the scheme gave us an opportunity thoroughly to overhaul and review how we do things. It gave a spark to talking to other airports. We have now aligned with places such as London City airport, and we are trying to get other airports to do the same. So there has certainly been some benefit, which we would hope to find a way to retain.

Q 79

Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Conservative, Amber Valley

I think East Midlands airport is also in your group. Presumably, you think that the security arrangements and the safety for passengers are as strong at East Midlands airport, which is not part of this scheme, as at Manchester airport.

Mike Fazackerley: Yes, of course.

Q 80

Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Conservative, Amber Valley

Have you experienced many passengers flying from Manchester airport using the ID card, rather than a passport?

Mike Fazackerley: I honestly could not put numbers on it, but I know from personal experience, and the experience of other people who have had them, that people have used them successfully when flying out of Manchester, yes.

Photo of Martin Caton Martin Caton Labour, Gower

Are there any further questions to Mr Fazackerley at this stage? Obviously, we can return to him if members of the Committee wish to do so afterwards. The first question to Ms Epstein is from Robert Halfon.

Q 81

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Conservative, Harlow

Thank you, Mr. Caton. Ms Epstein, why have you supported the ID card scheme? Why did you decide to buy the card?

Angela Epstein: First of all, may I say that I do not represent a body, such as Manchester airport? I do not represent an employer. I do not represent anybody other than myself, so any information that I give you is purely anecdotal and based on how the ID card scheme would have helped me.

When the scheme was first floated, I just thought that it was a good idea—a safe, convenient and secure way of proving identity. I remembered my mum talking about having an identity card after the war—everybody, even babies, had them. It was not a jingoistic thing, and it was not something to be deplored; it was just a safe, secure way of proving identity. I got an ID card purely for the convenience of it—it was the size of a credit card, it was in my purse, and it was only £30. That is not an insignificant amount in this economic climate, but I did not see any downside to having one.

Q 82

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Conservative, Harlow

And how do you think that an ID card, particularly a voluntary one, would stop terrorism?

Angela Epstein: As I say, I did not get an ID card to stop terrorism. I got one because I thought it was a safe and secure way of proving identity. It was not a scheme that I was party to when it was being constructed—or deconstructed; I am not sure how that will work. I could see that possibly, if it was a watertight way of proving identity—for example, through biometric  information—it could prove that certain people were not who they said they were, or who they were supposed to be, and that could help. But that was not what drove me to get one.

Q 83

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Conservative, Harlow

Given the low take-up of voluntary ID cards—it is even lower now that we have found out that 2,500 cards were yours, Mr Fazackerley—was your position representative of people in this country?

Angela Epstein: I have no idea whether I am representative of people in this country. I represent only myself, as I said. I am not here as a poster girl for the ID card; I can only tell you what it did for me. I do not mean to sound aggressive when I say that, but the problem with a scheme that has a fairly low uptake is that people think you are somehow a flag-bearer for it.

If you want anecdotal evidence, in a straw poll of people I knew, I found that people were neither pleased nor displeased by the card. It was not mandatory, so nobody was running to spend £30 on it. The people I know who did get cards thought that they were a good idea, mainly for the convenience and security of proving identity. It is an absolute pain in the neck to lose your passport and it is an expensive process to get a new one. I probably give more information away when I use my supermarket loyalty card. It sounds ridiculous, and it sounds as though I am being facetious, but I am astounded by how much information is known about me through my using my mobile phone—I get cold-calling on my mobile—and through spam e-mail. I have not surrendered any of that information; it is information that is in the public domain. I think that concern was just a ridiculously hysterical, over-anxious response to a scheme that, to me, just flagged up common sense.

Q 84

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Conservative, Harlow

Do you think it was right for the scheme to fine anyone whose information on the database was out of date?

Angela Epstein: It depends on the size of the fine. As a point of principle, and as a principle of law, not especially, no. As long as it was proportionate.

Q 85

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Conservative, Harlow

Just one final question, if I may: do you think that the card should have been compulsory?

Angela Epstein: I would not have had a problem if the card had been compulsory.

Q 86

Photo of Aidan Burley Aidan Burley Conservative, Cannock Chase

Could you tell us how you have used your card since December, and how it has proved easier than other forms of ID?

Angela Epstein: This is the sorry state that we have brought ourselves to: the fact is that the scheme was in its embryonic stage, and I have not had a chance to use the card properly, so I can neither prove nor disprove the arguments about ID cards. That is the flaw in where the Bill is at; it is a knee-jerk response to a scheme that has not had a chance to prove what it could or could not do. By all means, let its detractors say, “It didn’t do what it said on the tin,” but we have not had enough time to prove that.

Unfortunately, I have not had an opportunity to travel through Europe since December, and therefore have not been able to use the card more conveniently, but if I had had to go to France on work, or to Spain for  pleasure, I would have been very happy to use it. The situation did not arise. There have been situations, historically, when I have had to rummage around for utility bills or documentation—pieces of information—to prove identity. It would have been a lot easier to use my ID card.

Q 87

Photo of Shabana Mahmood Shabana Mahmood Labour, Birmingham, Ladywood

How do you feel about the decision to scrap the scheme without compensating people, such as yourself, who hold ID cards?

Angela Epstein: It is absolutely outrageous. Some people would argue that it was always mooted that, should the Government change and the Tories or the Con-Libs—or whatever you want to call them—come to office, the scheme would be junked. The Conservatives were certainly quite vocal about that, but you cannot legislate for what is going to happen in the future. You cannot not buy a car because there is going to be some change in legislation that will mean it depreciates the minute you choose to drive it. I had faith in the scheme and, as a member of the British public who paid to take part in a scheme that was lawful and that was promised, I believe, a 10-year lifespan, I would have thought that that promise should be honoured. It is a dereliction of parliamentary duty not to give me back my money.

Q 88

Photo of Shabana Mahmood Shabana Mahmood Labour, Birmingham, Ladywood

There are two potential options: you can either have your £30 back or you can get credit the next time you update your passport. I presume you would prefer the first.

Angela Epstein: I prefer the first, simply because I recently changed my passport, so it would be another 10 years before I did so again, by which time £30 would be worth about 30p, so I would rather have the money back now.

Q 89

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Immigration

You used some very strong language when you spoke about compensation. I am interested to know whether you recognise that there is a distinction. I would have more sympathy with the argument if it had been a compulsory scheme—if the cards were being forced on people—but, as the previous Government made clear, it was voluntary. It was entirely your decision; nobody forced you to spend £30 on something when you knew that a Government who pledged to get rid of the cards could be elected. In the end, it was your decision to do it. Nobody forced you to spend that £30. It is like buying an analogue TV set, then three years down the line, it all goes digital, and your TV set is no longer useful.

Angela Epstein: With the greatest respect, that is a flawed argument. The ID card came with a 10-year lifespan, and that at least should have been honoured. I would have been quite happy to have been able to use it for the lifespan of the card. When you buy a television, it comes with a three-year guarantee. If you take your TV back before the three years are up—if it is faulty or there has been some change in the mechanism so you can no longer use it—you are within your rights to get your money back, or to have your television updated. I am afraid that I do not recognise your argument.

Q 90

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Immigration

But you would have been aware of the circumstances that might obtain. You went into  the scheme with your eyes open.

Angela Epstein: Because it was volubly floated that the Tories would junk the scheme? Is that what you are saying? That I was going into a scheme that I knew did not have the Opposition’s backing, and that therefore could well be spiked? Is that what you are saying?

Q 91

Angela Epstein: Right. You could say that about anything you do all the time. We are a free country; we are a democracy. That is the beauty of what we are doing here today. We have not been arm-locked into doing this; this is democracy in progress. I am sorry to repeat myself but, as I said, I cannot legislate for what a future Government might do. I can only have faith in what a Government do at the point of sale. There have been plenty of election howlers, when people have predicted that a Government would take office, but they have not done so. Who was to say that the Tories would get in anyway? But I was not thinking along political lines. The fact is that at the point of sale, the ID cards were available in good faith—and in good faith, I got one.

Q 92

Photo of Julian Huppert Julian Huppert Liberal Democrat, Cambridge

You are making an interesting point. You argue that Governments should not be able to change things that have been agreed by previous Governments. That seems to be where you are heading. If you make a decision—an investment decision, to get an identity card or anything else—and there is a change of Government, your argument seems to be that the new Government should not be allowed to do anything that would change the decision you could have made. I find that very worrying. I think that Governments should be able to undo errors made by previous Governments whether it comes to this or more broadly. Are you arguing this just because you invested £30 or are you trying to make the case that Governments should not be able to make changes to previous Governments’ decisions?

Angela Epstein: Like I said, I am not a poster girl for the ID card or for how this was constructed. I am not here under any political banner and neither am I trying to specify that this should have been a landmark ruling by which all future governmental decisions should be made. I am looking purely as a member of the public at what the ID card said on the tin. It cost £30 and in return I got a 10-year guarantee that I could prove my identity with a little piece of plastic in my purse. It is not for me to worry about the implications of deconstructing a Bill—this is what you are all here for and it is not what I do. With the greatest of respect, it is wrong to push me in that direction, because that is not what I mean at all.

Q 93

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Conservative, Hexham

To what extent did your photo driving licence differ from your identity card in usage over the last year?

Angela Epstein: I have not had my identity card long enough to tell you what the major differences would be. That is the great shame of junking the scheme so early on.

Q 94

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Conservative, Hexham

Okay, what about in six months? Is there any fundamental difference between your photo driving licence and the identity card?

Angela Epstein: Well, my driving licence does not have my biometric details. It does not have my fingerprints.

Q 95

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Conservative, Hexham

Yes, but is there any fundamental difference? There is not, is there?

Angela Epstein: Again, with the greatest of respect to everyone here, I am not accountable for how the scheme came into place. I was not party to the discussions that led to the scheme.

Q 96

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Conservative, Hexham

I just asked you a really simply question.

Angela Epstein: Yes, you did and I am answering in a very simple way. As I member of the public I saw the ID card as a very useful way for me to move through Europe to prove my identity. I do not carry my driving licence with me all the time. It cannot go in my purse like a credit card so I found it very useful in that respect.

Q 97

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Conservative, Hexham

You say you are not the poster girl for the photo ID card, but you are the person who has written about it extensively in a variety of magazines—

Angela Epstein: No, just one newspaper.

Q 98

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Conservative, Hexham

—and you proceeded to apply first for it. But a driving licence—I may be strongly criticised by the people who introduced it—and an ID card are exactly the same size, give or take a millimetre.

Angela Epstein: They are not. You cannot slip your driving licence—[Interruption.] Maybe mine is outdated and is ready for renewal, but it cannot slip into my purse. More significantly—[Interruption.]I do not have one of those. Mine obviously needs renewing.

Q 99

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Conservative, Hexham

I think you are obliged under law to have a photo driving licence.

Angela Epstein: You are not. [Interruption.]

Photo of Martin Caton Martin Caton Labour, Gower

Carry on, Ms Epstein.

Angela Epstein: If I were not such a reasonable person I would object to being the quarry for this. When you talk about—[Interruption.] May I, Mr. Chairman?

Angela Epstein: You said that I had written about this in newspapers. There is an implication there that somehow I was leading some kind of crusade. I am in the supremely fortunate position of being a columnist for a newspaper which means that I have the great honour and privilege of being allowed to platform my opinions. It is a great thing. That is beautiful. It is democracy in process. I saw the ID card as a great scheme and I wrote about it. I said, “This is marvellous. I think everyone should get one if they want one.” My moot point about all this is that there has been a great argument about the Big Brother element of the ID card and that data protection will be compromised. I have not asked anybody to get an ID card, but the people who do not have them are telling me not to have one. I wonder who the Big Brother is here. So whether or not my driving licence has a picture on it, whether or not it fits in my purse, this was a personal choice. It seemed like a very reasonable scheme and a fair exchange for £30. I do not see that there is a great problem with that.

Q 100

Photo of Bridget Phillipson Bridget Phillipson Labour, Houghton and Sunderland South

Presumably you apply for a driving licence when you intend to drive. That was why I applied for mine. Not everybody intends to learn to drive or wants to do so. So presumably for those people an ID card would be a valuable option?

Angela Epstein: Absolutely. I was going to come to that. I have a 17-year-old son for whom an identity card would be really useful. He does not have a car. He has only just passed his test so he has only recently acquired a driving licence. There is a whole demographic for which identity cards would be perfectly useful. The driving licence is bandied around as comparative to ID cards, but the assumption that everyone has one is erroneous. I totally agree with you.

Q 101

Photo of Bridget Phillipson Bridget Phillipson Labour, Houghton and Sunderland South

You say that you bought your card in good faith. Do you think it is fair to compare a purchase from a retailer to a purchase from the Government? Surely an Act of Parliament and a purchase from the Government are very different from, and not comparable to, the purchase of a retail product.

Angela Epstein: That is a fair point. A retailer could go into liquidation. Even though this Government seem as though they are going into liquidation, they are not. [Interruption.]

Photo of Martin Caton Martin Caton Labour, Gower

Order. I do not know about other people, but it is difficult for me to hear the witness. Can we remain at least reasonably silent?

Angela Epstein: I am sorry.

Photo of Martin Caton Martin Caton Labour, Gower

No, the problem was not how loud you were speaking, but the volume of other people. If you continue, we will have a little bit more hush.

Angela Epstein: Ms Phillipson is quite right. A retailer can go into liquidation and that is a consumer choice, but this, as she said, was an Act of Parliament—it was part of the structure of Government. People use comparisons all the time because they are easy bullet points for ID cards. They talk about driving licences and taking your telly back, but that sullies the whole issue of what ID cards represent.

Q 102

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Shadow Minister (Home Office)

We heard from witnesses this morning that there was a real risk that the identity card database—we have not really talked about that with you this afternoon—was an attack on personal civil liberty. That was the big worry and there was a concern that, even if it was benevolent now, it would become big and bad in the future. Do you have any comments on that? Have you thought about whether the database was an attack on your civil liberties?

Angela Epstein: I do not think that it is an attack on my civil liberties. The sloppy way in which databases have been safeguarded, judging by what I have read, is more of an issue than the information at the time of surrendering. I do not have a problem. This always sounds clichéd, but I am a law-abiding citizen: I do not have anything to hide or anything to prove. If you want to know my name, my age, what I do for a living and even my religious identity, I do not have a problem. If you want my thumb print, that is fine, because I have nothing to lose.

It is ironic that the huge queue to get into Parliament earlier was an almighty scrum with people screaming that they were going to miss their 3.30 appointment, because of what seems to me, with respect, to be a fairly hackneyed scheme to get into the building. It would be so much easier and smoother if people had identity cards that they just had to slip in. I had my photograph taken here—what for? I did not object; this is who I am. There is a lot of sound and fury about data protection and privacy, but we surrender information about ourselves all the time. If we are law-abiding, there is no reason for us not to do that.

Q 103

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Another concern that people have raised is that, in order to protect civil liberties, there would be a track of who looked up information on the register. That would prove that you were the only person who had done that with your card and perhaps, in time, there would be a reading machine. Did you have concerns about that tracking of access to any data about you, or were you not worried about it?

Angela Epstein: In relation to ID cards?

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Every time you used your ID card, there would be some kind of footprint.

Angela Epstein: In terms of where I am and what I do?

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Shadow Minister (Home Office)

That you had used it for a particular transaction.

Angela Epstein: Every move we all make is more or less tracked by the Big Brother culture. This sitting is being filmed, no doubt. There are microphones and CCTV cameras everywhere. Every transaction we make is stored. Every day, supermarkets sell lists containing information about whether we buy nappies or designer water to companies that can use it for commercial purposes. I think that the information contained on an ID card and the way we would use it is more than comparable to the other ways in which we are tracked every day by the surveillance society, which is what we are by necessity.

Q 104

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Shadow Minister (Home Office)

You have been asked a number of questions about why you chose to have an ID card and we have talked about the documents. Was the attachment to a fingerprint a material part of your decision to have an ID card?

Angela Epstein: To me, that is the most foolproof way of proving who you are. I did not have a problem with that at all.

Q 105

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Shadow Minister (Home Office)

That brings me to my final point. You have made it very clear that you are not political, but the current Government policy is to halt the introduction of fingerprints to passports from 2012. Halt does not mean an end to it. Do you have any comments on that?

Angela Epstein: I think that it is very unfortunate that they are doing that. Passports are the way that we prove identity. We have to show them when we travel abroad. We have to prove that we are who we say we are. I do not understand why having a fingerprint to prove who you are is any more invasive than having a photograph.

Photo of Catherine McKinnell Catherine McKinnell Labour, Newcastle upon Tyne North

I was going to ask about your feelings about the view that your civil liberties are being infringed, but that has already been covered.

Q 106

Photo of Julian Huppert Julian Huppert Liberal Democrat, Cambridge

I was wondering whether Miss Epstein was going to talk about wanting the card to continue. Are you interested in the 15,000 cards continuing to be valid, as Opposition Members suggested?

Angela Epstein: Yes.

Q 107

Photo of Julian Huppert Julian Huppert Liberal Democrat, Cambridge

Are you concerned at all about the cost of keeping the entire system going across the country?

Angela Epstein: I am not here to do the maths.

Q 108

Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Conservative, Amber Valley

On that point, would the card be a sufficiently recognised form of ID, and would you get value for the £30 that you paid, if nobody in the country actually recognised the card, given that only 15,000 people would ever have one?

Angela Epstein: You mean if the infrastructure was taken away?

Q 109

Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Conservative, Amber Valley

No, if it was left as it is now, but no more cards were issued. Would it not be as worthless to keep it in force in theory as it would be to cancel it?

Angela Epstein: I do not understand what you are saying. Do you mean can I still use the card if it is not cancelled?

Q 110

Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Conservative, Amber Valley

The question I was asking was if just the 15,000 cards currently in existence were retained and were valid for 10 years, would anyone recognise them as a valid form of ID, given that people would be so unfamiliar with them?

Angela Epstein: If they are maintained and recognised for 10 years. They cannot be maintained as part of a package—either they exist and are, therefore, recognised, or they do not. It is like saying you can have the £5 note in your pocket, but some shops will not take it. Either the cards are legal tender in terms of identification or they are not.

Q 111

Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Conservative, Amber Valley

But they will only be of any use if the place you take them to actually recognises them as valid. If people in Nottingham have not seen one of these cards for two years, and you try to use one to prove your ID, might they not say, “I don’t recognise this thing.”

Angela Epstein: But if it is the law, they have to recognise it.

Q 112

Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Conservative, Amber Valley

That is not much help to you if they do not.

Angela Epstein: Okay. I will ask them to ring the phone number on the back if they are really struggling. With the greatest of respect, that is a ridiculous proposition.

Angela Epstein: It is like saying, “I’ve never seen an American Express card before” or “I’ve never seen a Coutts bank card before.” Ask somebody in a local shop in Llandudno if they have seen a Coutts banker’s  cheque, and they might say, “What’s that?” If you say, “Actually, it’s from one of the oldest banks in the country,” they might say, “Well, I’ve never seen one.”

Angela Epstein: You say that, but you are peddling other people’s ignorance. That is not a reason not to have this.

Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Conservative, Amber Valley

I was asking you a question for your view actually.

Angela Epstein: My view? Sorry. It is not a question; the question is based on what the information is. If the cards are still lawful, and you can use them legally, I cannot worry about someone saying, “I’ve not seen one of those for two years.”

Q 113

Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Conservative, Amber Valley

It is legal to use a Scottish banknote, but you will find many shops down here do not take very kindly to your presenting them.

Angela Epstein: But they have to take them.

Angela Epstein: Do they have to take them?

Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Conservative, Amber Valley

Yes, but that does not mean that they do, does it?

Angela Epstein: There you go; there is your answer.

Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Conservative, Amber Valley

But no one will want to go through trying to make them.

Angela Epstein: But they have to take them.

Q 114

Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Conservative, Amber Valley

I was trying to ask you whether you thought you would get full value. I had another question. I was looking through my wallet, thinking, “What would I not have to carry if I had an ID card,” but I could not actually find anything. From your experience, is there anything that you do not carry that you used to carry, now that you have your ID card?

Angela Epstein: Ironically, I have not had cause to go to Europe in the short time that I have had one, but I would not have to take a passport. If I had dealings with my bank—if I wanted to change my bank account—I would not have to take utility bills or anything else in, which would be very useful. I have not had enough time to use my card yet. I am sorry, but that is why I cannot give you a fuller answer; I have not had enough time. That is the great flaw in this whole Bill; you have not given people time to prove what a good idea this is.

Q 115

Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Conservative, Amber Valley

When you bought your card, did you think there were would be a review period that was less than 10 years?

Angela Epstein: Yes, it was possible, but that did not stop me. I come back to my original point: you cannot not do things because you are worried about the team or its manager changing.

Q 116

Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Conservative, Amber Valley

It contrasts with you thinking that the card would be guaranteed to last for 10 years if you were conscious that there might be a review?

Angela Epstein: I am sorry. Can you speak up?

Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Conservative, Amber Valley

Sorry. It contrasts with your view that you thought the card was guaranteed to last for 10 years, if you thought there would be a review at some time halfway through.

Angela Epstein: What do you mean? Would I not have bought one?

Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Conservative, Amber Valley

I was just contrasting views.

Angela Epstein: It was not specified. When I got the card they did not say, “You can have it. It lasts 10 years, but perhaps not.” That is ridiculous. They did not say that.

Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Conservative, Amber Valley

I saw an inconsistency in what you were saying.

Angela Epstein: You are asking me to think off piste. I can only go by what was in front of me.

Q 117

Photo of Julie Hilling Julie Hilling Labour, Bolton West

May I ask almost exactly the same questions? Mr Fazackerley, I do not know whether you or your staff have had the opportunity to use the card in some of the ways that were being asked of Miss Epstein. Have you or your staff had the opportunity to use the card, and how simple have they found its use, not just in the work situation, but in the wider world?

Mike Fazackerley: I think that mainly the people I know have made use of it for travel. Initially there were one or two problems, because knowledge of the card had not got out, particularly to airlines, but that was soon solved. It is used mainly for travel, and the reason is that had the evaluation period led to a full roll-out, the intention was that banks, retailers and so forth would have the ability not just to visually check cards, but to biometrically check them. Of course, that has not happened, but that would have been the engine to make them more useful.

Q 118

Photo of Julie Hilling Julie Hilling Labour, Bolton West

Are you aware of staff making use of them?

Mike Fazackerley: Mainly for travel.

Photo of Martin Caton Martin Caton Labour, Gower

If Members have no further questions for either of the witnesses, that brings us to the end of our business this afternoon.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Jeremy Wright.)

Adjourned till Thursday 1 July at Nine o’clock.