Clause 3

Identity Documents Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:15 pm on 1 July 2010.

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

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Shadow Minister (Home Office) 2:30, 1 July 2010

On a point of order, Mr Streeter. It has been suggested that I need to mention amendment 3, which has not been selected. I would like some clarification on that.

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon

Amendment 3 has not been selected and therefore it will not be debated.

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

I am happy to be the first to speak to clause 3 and give the Minister a rest. The clause represents the crux of the long-term issue facing the British public. It will destroy not only the data on the national identity register, but remove the well and slowly built IT system that would have securely held fingerprints. The Minister has talked about halting biometric passports, and the clause indicates that, not only is he halting that process, but he is telling the British public that fingerprints will no longer be included in passports. That point is pertinent to the clause, so will the Minister return to it?

Destroying all the information sounds easy, but how does the Minister plan to do it and how much will it cost? He and this Government are keen to talk about transparency—an issue close to the Minister’s heart—and fairness, although we have knocked a hole in the suggestion that this is a fair Government. How will he ensure that people who are sceptical of Government, such as some of the witnesses from whom we heard evidence, believe that the data will have been destroyed? He can hardly  use a bonfire, given the nature of the database, and people will be sceptical. People who have identity cards are happy for their information to be held by the national identity register, and its destruction is not for their satisfaction, but for that of the Minister. Many of them would like the register to remain and continue to use their card, but, as we have already debated, they are unable to do that.

My big question is: why can the information not be migrated to the passport database for those who wish to keep their card? I have already touched on that point, but the key thing is that the register would have set up the most securely proposed and built databases in Government, close to the standards required for defence databases and so on. This country has a secure passport database and the previous Government’s aim was continually to increase it and stay ahead of the curve on new technology to ensure that our passports remained secure. Part of that meant having a clear register that held biometric data—in this case, fingerprints and facial images—in one database, biographical data similar to that already held in a passport in another, and a third piece of technology to link them. That was much more secure than the existing passport database, which is reasonably secure. It would have been accessible to very few people—not to people with PCs at a desk—and would have provided something to verify information against. I believe that it put the citizen in control of their data and identity information in a far stronger way than paper documents and less-secure databases. How will the destruction of the database, which has taken time and money to establish, benefit the British public and the security of the British passport?

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Immigration

The beginning of the hon. Lady’s speech, when she said that the destruction of the national identity register is at the heart of the Bill, represents a rare moment of agreement between us. She is absolutely right, but her questions illustrate the difference between our respective points of principle. She has made it clear that she believes that it is somehow reassuring for the state to collect large amounts of information on every citizen and store it. I find it profoundly non-reassuring. The clause is about halting the ability of the state to hold large volumes of biographical and biometric information indiscriminately on every one of us.

Of course the state holds information on its citizens and we recognise that, when there are legitimate and proportionate reasons for doing so, it can be justified on the grounds of national security, public protection or preventing and detecting serious and organised crime. The ID card scheme, however, was always about asking innocent people to pay for the privilege of the state building up a huge database of personal information and then placing a statutory requirement on them to ensure that the database was up to date.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Opposition Whip (Commons)

There are people at our airports who use fast-track facial recognition systems. Where is that data stored at the moment?

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Immigration

I believe that that data is stored by the UK Passport Service. [ Interruption. ] The UK Border Agency. It will still be the Government, but that is a voluntary scheme, of course.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Immigration

No, if one does not sign up to the iris recognition scheme or any of the other e-passport schemes, there is no law on the statute book that says not keeping personal information up to date would make one liable for a fine of up to £1,000. The Identity Cards Act 2006 has that requirement—not just for biometric recognition, but for biographical information as well. The best part of 50 different pieces of information were required, including pieces of information that will change quite rapidly throughout people’s lives, where there was a legal obligation to keep it up to date.

I am afraid that throughout the course of the debate I have seen no evidence to support the benefits of sustaining this enormous and intrusive database, unless the architects of the scheme suggest that anyone who volunteers for an ID card presents a particular risk to society over and above any other group. The point, made by one of my hon. Friends, is that the exact opposite is the truth. The shadow Minister says that the scheme was always meant to be voluntary—my memory of the debate suggests that that is not true. As a concession at some stage, the then Government said that they would stop making it compulsory and that Parliament would have to make it compulsory at some stage in the future, but it was always the intention of the originators of the ID card scheme for it to become a compulsory, universal scheme. If it was just a voluntary scheme, it was particularly pointless—the last people ever to sign up to this wretched scheme would have been the terrorists and criminals who we might feel we want to keep information on. That illustrates the morass into which the previous Government trod when they tried to get the scheme through. This is a matter of principle—we do not believe that the Government should hold all that biometric data on innocent people.

To return to the specific point made by the hon. Lady, migration of data to the passport database would breach the Data Protection Act 1998. It would process data for a purpose other than that for which it was obtained. I am afraid that what she is urging me to do is illegal, so I propose not to take her advice on that point.

The hon. Lady has made a wider point in several debates on this issue and I should deal with it. She is trying to muddy the waters and say that to get rid of the national identity register will in some way compromise the passport database. She knows, as well as I do, that those are separate databases.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Immigration

At the moment, yes they are. Therefore, destroying the national identity register will have no effect on the passport database. To suggest that the Bill will in some way make our passports less secure is not just wrong, but irresponsible. I hope that the hon. Lady will avoid doing so in the future.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Conservative, Harlow

What is my hon. Friend’s view about the professor from the UK computing committee who said that having one national database would be extremely vulnerable to attack—that having one database only would be very dangerous.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Immigration

I agree with him. One interesting development during the course of the debates on this matter in the previous Parliament was the emergence of many serious IT experts—far more expert, certainly, than me and, I expect, hon. Lady. They made the point that creating that kind of database would be a honeypot for every hacker around the world—for those just doing it for fun, or for those doing it with more serious and unpleasant intent. We would be betting the whole house on the British Government’s security measures always being better than the most innovative hacker around the world. That would be a huge risk for the security of all our data.

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Labour, Easington

Further to the point about the security of the database and the argument that it would be an enticement for hackers to try and break into the system, because of the proposals for ID cards for foreign nationals—or whatever name they are finally given—surely some form of secure ID database will have to be operated by the Government. Whatever the concerns about this database, presumably those security measures will have to be implemented in any case. It is a false argument to say that we cannot ensure the integrity and security of the system. We must be able to do that.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Immigration

Governments will hold various databases. The argument in this Bill is that creating a wholly unnecessary, hugely expensive database with dozens of pieces of information about every adult in the country is not only intrusive and unnecessary, but an added security risk. The information is being collected pointlessly and put on a database. Let us hope that it would be secure. Let us hope that the database that has existed for the past few months is secure. However, we cannot be sure, and because the new database is pointless, it would be counter-productive to hold it.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Opposition Whip (Commons)

In response to the hon. Member for Hexham, the Minister gave the impression that we are talking about a single database for the national identity register. That is not true, is it?

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Immigration

It is not a big box with flashing lights; there are various pieces of information. However, I assure the hon. Gentleman that it can be removed in one go. That is a legitimate question that people have asked about.

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

The issue is about databases that hold large amounts of information on particular groups of people. Does the Minister not have confidence in other Government databases, such as that on child benefit, for example, which theoretically includes the details of every child who lives in this country? Another database could include the national insurance number of every person who lives in the country. Surely the Government have the facility to safeguard that kind of data where information is held about great numbers of people or particular groups of people.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Immigration

I sense that others have had the same thought as me. The hon. Lady mentions child benefit, but that was precisely one of the pieces of information that went missing—I think that that information was on  one of the CDs that went missing, although it may have happened some other way. Those most sensitive databases and pieces of information, which contained the names and addresses of every child in this country, went missing under the last Government. I do not seek to make a partisan point; I make the general point that whatever politicians seek to do—obviously, everyone tries to make these things as secure as possible—accidents happen. Therefore, with all such large databases it seems a sensible precaution to ask, “Do we need to create this? Is this actually serving such an important purpose that we need to add that bit of risk?” By any standard, the national identity register would fail that test.

Photo of Julie Hilling Julie Hilling Labour, Bolton West

I am slightly confused about the questions surrounding the national identity card database. We currently have a passport database that has 80% of people on it—we have been told that 80% of people own passports—and I assume that that database contains some biometric information or signatures. I am making assumptions, so I ask the Minister to explain that great difference. If the ID card database would be so vulnerable, why is our passport database not equally vulnerable?

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Immigration 2:45, 1 July 2010

As the hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South has just illustrated, perhaps accidentally, all databases contain a degree of vulnerability. The differences between the passport database and the national identity database are instructive and lie at the heart of the matter. I am grateful to her for raising that matter because the two databases are often confused. Of course there are some similarities. Certain common information is collected and held on a passport application in order to confirm that the person making the application is who he or she claims to be, and to ensure that they are entitled to a British passport. We will, of course, continue to gather that information.

We do not, however, intend to introduce the requirement that a person must notify us in case of a change of address, for example. That was a requirement for the national identity register. We have already stated publicly that we will not require a second piece of biometric data to be provided in the form of fingerprints. One of the basic differences between the passport database and the national identity register is that the national identity register was more overarching and contained much more information, and that information was very likely to change. A legal obligation was put on the citizen to inform the state every time that information changed. Inadvertently, we would be creating hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of accidental criminals every time people forgot to inform the Government of a change. If a student, for example, changed flat for a few weeks, they would have to register that with the Government as it happened. It would have been massively intrusive into people’s private lives.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Opposition Whip (Commons)

My hon. Friends the Members for Bolton West and for Houghton and Sunderland South asked about the insecurity of other databases. Is it not the case that the databases covering the national identity register would have been infinitely more secure than any others because the number of staff who would have had  access to them was severely restricted, whereas the number of staff who have access to the other Government databases is much larger?

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Immigration

Straightforwardly, no. That is not true.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Opposition Whip (Commons)

How can it be straightforwardly no?

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Immigration

The national identity register, as devised by the previous Government, would have required lots of bodies, both public and private, to have electronic access. That is not true of other Government databases. The hon. Gentleman was wrong when he said that the national identity register would be infinitely safer than other Government databases.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Opposition Whip (Commons)

My point is that the number of staff who would have direct access to the national identity register was restricted and the staff themselves would have been fairly strongly vetted. The number of staff who have access to, for example, the child benefit database is much larger, so it stands to reason that the national identity register was a more secure system. If the Minister is worried about that and the risk that that poses, why is he not giving us a list of the actions that he will take on the other databases that he and his Government are responsible for?

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Immigration

The hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch took the opportunity to plug the lecture that she gave last year to the Social Market Foundation. I refer the hon. Gentleman to my lecture last year to the Centre for Policy Studies on the issue of databases. It is a classic, and he will see what I think about the Government’s use of databases. It also covers the point that was made earlier by the hon. Member for Easington about the ability of Government databases to talk to each other and about their effect on the delivery of public services. By making the delivery of public services dependent on technology rather than on the needs of the citizen, the previous Government were going down the wrong route, but that is a matter for another day.

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

On the requirement to update information and details, it is my understanding that that remains the case at the moment with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency database. A person faces a fine if they do not update their details with the DVLA. Is there a difference between those two databases, or are we talking about a fundamental matter of principle?

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Immigration

The DVLA database and other such databases require people to notify them of changes. Some things need to be changed on passports and other things need to be changed on driving licences. All that information was used and a lot more was added on the national identity register and the ID card scheme. The register went way beyond any other database, so it was much more intrusive. Moreover, it was on top of everything else that a citizen needs to do. If the ID card scheme had come into operation and been in operation for a long time, people would rapidly have found out how intrusive it was in their daily lives.

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

Is the Minister saying—I apologise if this is the case—that other than information that is volunteered to the national identity register by those who bought a national ID card, there is additional information that those people would be unaware of?

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Immigration

I am not sure that I quite understand the hon. Lady’s point.

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

The Minister said that much more information is added than what is supplied to the national identity register—I do not know whether he said “infinitely” more, but dozens more pieces of information are added. I wish to clarify whether that is in addition to the information supplied to the national database by the volunteers, the innocent people mentioned.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Immigration

I refer the hon. Lady to the original Bill—go back and look at the Act, and see how much is required of those who take out an identity card. It is extraordinary how much information is—

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Immigration

Volunteered for the time being.

I return to the point made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak. The access of Government staff to databases is limited, but, in the case of the national identity register, banks and other private sector agencies would have access to information held on the register. Opposition Members and others have been arguing that they trust the public sector more than the private sector. I am not at all sure that I share their view, but it is theirs and it has been eloquently expressed by many of them today. They should be more worried—many private bodies would have access to the national identity register.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Opposition Whip (Commons)

I am grateful to the Minister for making that clear, but am I right to think that those organisations have to notify the individual that they intend to ask for information on that basis? Was that not intended to be covered by the Identity Commissioner, who was to report to Parliament on what happened? The Minister seems to be overlooking the safeguards intended in the scheme.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Immigration

I am not overlooking the safeguards. No one sets up a database with the idea of it being porous, but experience and common sense tell us that accidents happen, people make mistakes, CDs with information go missing and, occasionally, malevolent individuals penetrate systems. My basic contention is that creating unnecessary databases is particularly dangerous because of the problem of security, and there has never been a bigger and more unnecessary database than the national identity register, so that in itself would be a good reason to abolish it, quite apart from all the other reasons.

I will move on to second-generation biometrics in passports. The hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South made a reasonable point which is relevant in the general context of proportionality and the privacy of the individual, which are at the crux of the Bill and therefore of the clause. We have halted second biometrics  in passports because we have seen no evidence to support the need for a fingerprint biometric passport, on security clearance or on travel grounds, for the individual.

The British passport is recognised nationally and internationally as a gold standard. We shall continue to ensure that necessary improvements are made when required to maintain that standard. UK passport holders are not disadvantaged in their ability to travel by the absence of a second biometric. I will monitor that situation and ensure that our citizens have the same freedom and ability to travel as any other EU citizen. At this stage, we have no evidence to show why the state should gather fingerprint biometric data from those wishing to apply for a passport to travel overseas. We already issue facial-image biometric passports, using a secure chip, and that will continue.

I now turn directly to clause 3. Our commitment is to destroy all personal information recorded on the NIR. That will include information held for administrative purposes, for example on those who expressed an interest in mailing lists for informing card-holders of the cancellation process or requests for verification. We have made clear our commitment to scrap the whole ID card scheme and, therefore, the national identity register. That means removing the information-gathering process and the information gathered by that process.

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

I am a little disappointed. The Minister now has access to one of the best civil services in the world but, with all the information that he could have chosen to provide, instead I heard a speech that I have heard a few times already—surface-deep, to say the least. Of course, the state holds information on us in many places. I am unclear why he describes the national identity register as indiscriminate. Those on the register now, including me, chose to be so. We made that decision. It was not indiscriminate. Individuals on the street were not randomly picked to put their data on the register. Those data were given voluntarily and clearly laid out under the law. People knew what they were walking into, and such action was taken with enthusiasm. It was nothing to do with guilt or innocence. What does the Minister want? Only guilty people on the register? Most databases held by the Government do not have anything to do with guilt or innocence, and those that do are rightly held by the police. We do not have a problem with that, but we are hearing an interesting mix of points.

Iris scanners and other recognition gates at airports are popular with people. They are willing to pass over their biometric data. I do not suppose that a lot of people ask exactly where the information is held and what is done with it, but it has been a practical issue and raises the wider point about biometrics which I shall touch on in relation to passports.

What is happening is so important. We are losing the ability to provide a secure storage place for biometrics. I could have understood putting such a proposal in mothballs, but scrapping it is part of the Armageddon approach that the Government are taking.

It is interesting that most of us went into politics—certainly my hon. Friends and I did—to do things that benefit the British public, to do things positively and to change things for the better. The present Government seem to be halting, reviewing or destroying things. I am  looking forward to some positive proposals and perhaps the Minister and I will have a chance to debate such matters in future.

I have heard the Minister talk many times about the civil fine for not updating an address being a problem, so why not adjust it? It is simply mirroring what happened with the driving licence. There is precedence for the Government to provide incentives to ensure that people maintain information. It is important that we lay the myth that 50 bits of information were secretly put on the database. People volunteered that information. Some of it concerned whether someone paid by credit card or the day that they did so. Frankly, if I could only remember the date that I turned up for my identity card, I would share it with the Committee and the general public through Hansard. I am trying to think what security questions I was asked.

We have heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett) that he gave the name of his first pet. I have forgotten such details. Obviously, they were significant to him and his personal security. Yes, those pieces of information are on the database. I would happily share such matters with the public, but people would become bored if I started going through my security questions now. As I have said, if people did not update the information, that would not have been a criminal sanction. It was a civil sanction.

The Minister s arguments about the database are easily solved. If he were minded to ensure that he safeguarded opportunities for the future, he could have chosen a different approach. If I had closed my eyes, it would have been like hearing a sixth-form debate that was pro and anti-ID card. He is now the Minister and he is responsible for the safety of the British public. We were never talking about a compulsory ID card scheme—that was not the proposal.

Let us be clear, for the benefit of hon. Members who were not present at the time. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough first mooted the matter for debate in Government, he talked about compulsion, but that was in 2002. Subsequently, there was a lot of discussion and it was decided that it was not a sensible approach, so the Bill that was passed did not include compulsion. When the previous Government listened, they were criticised for raising the point in the first place. They did listen and the proposal did not seem to make sense. If we had continued on that path, we would still have been criticised, so it is important that we make it clear that compulsion was not part of the 2006 Act.

Photo of Julian Huppert Julian Huppert Liberal Democrat, Cambridge

Can the hon. Lady explain why, even after that point, the previous Government kept using advantages for identity cards that pertained only if they were compulsory? We discussed terrorism and identity fraud earlier. That is only stopped with a compulsory card.

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Shadow Minister (Home Office) 3:00, 1 July 2010

Once again, the hon. Gentleman is bending the facts to suit his argument. More secure forms of ID help to protect the individual citizen against such measures. A constituent went to the DWP a little while ago and found that someone had been claiming benefits in their  name, and had great difficulty in proving their case. Had they had an ID card, and it had been shown at the time, it would have resolved the situation. Without going off at a tangent into individual cases, we need to be clear that the individual’s security would have benefited. Collectively, as with 80% of people having passports, the more we get, the more security there is. I would love to go into that argument more comprehensively and cogently, but we do not have the time and this is not the right point in the debate.

Biometric data is held in a number of places. Schools regularly take fingerprints of children. [Interruption.] Perhaps the Government have plans there. It happens. Young people themselves do not worry and many parents do not either. The fingerprints are kept and an algorithm is made of them. It is not the case that pictures of fingerprints are left lying around, although I do not know what one would do with them. The police obviously hold biometric data, usually of criminals or those who have been arrested. But we do not have a problem, on the whole, with using fingerprints and other data such as that relating to irises.

In many ways the Government will be even more behind the curve. It is always hard for Governments to catch up with technology and it is quite right sometimes that they do not go too far ahead of the curve. Things need to be tested elsewhere. But across the world and across different areas of business we see examples such as with laptops where fingerprints are used. We give that information away knowing that it will help to make our lives easier and now that is being denied.

The proposal on the National Identity Register and passports is completely wrong. I am glad to see that the Minister has left the door slightly ajar and that we have made some progress on passports since this morning. He said that there was no need to do anything yet but that the necessary changes would be implemented. That is good if it proves to be the case. If that happens, he will have to rebuild something very similar if not exactly the same as the National Identity Register—a secure storage place for that biometric information. As the Minister well knows, the database was designed to be able to include all that passport data from 2012.

The security of the database is important. That is something I took very seriously. If we take the Minister’s argument to its logical end, we would have no databases at all because there is always a risk when any data is held, whether it is on paper or microfiche, whether it is digitised or online. The Minister deliberately misunderstands this point and it is important to get it on the record that the data was not downloadable and could not be mined. I could not have looked up an individual called Damian Green on the database in any circumstances and found out information about him. It would have to have been a verification against information done remotely or by the handful of people who had direct access.

Things may have changed in the last few weeks. The Minister can certainly tell me if that is the case, but I feel that he is speaking without the deep understanding of how the database was put together and what it meant. Yes, we would agree and it is not responsible in government to say that there would never be any risk. We are a responsible Opposition. We know that there is always a risk in holding data but there are ways of mitigating those risks and there is a balance to be struck between the risks and the convenience and security of  the British public. We are on the side of the convenience and security of the British public and of mitigating those risks. I would hope that the Government are in the same place. We may have different ways of wanting to go about it, but I would hope that we could agree on the principles at least.

The Minister described the passport database as being very different. It includes our photographs and if you, Mr. Streeter, were to apply now for a driving licence you could link to get your photograph from the passport database all via your home PC. The Minister may have that in his sights now I have alerted him to it. We already do so much more than the National Identity Register would have allowed us to do, but it would have been a secure store. Over time it would have meant, if we had chosen to go on it, that we had to give far less information to other organisations because the basic identity information could be verified very quickly and in an automated fashion against the register. It could not be downloaded, but it would have been verified against the register. That technology would have made life much easier and would have meant that I did not need to give out information to all those other organisations that regularly want to know about me. I could prove the core stuff and only the extra information would need to go to any other body.

In these straitened economic times it is important to ask whether the Minister has given any consideration to the costs—not just in opportunities, but financially—of not allowing this scheme to extend. When I went up and down the country talking to people on councils and other places who were providing services, they saw the benefits, as this would have rolled out, of automated identity checks. At the moment, Mr. Streeter, if you take your passport into a bank, they will take it to a backroom, along with your various utility bills if you are fortunate enough to have one in your name, photocopy it, and if they are in any doubt, ring the Passport Agency and have it verified. Essentially the National Identity Register would have allowed that process to be automated in a secure way and would have saved costs. We are now seeing a massive reduction in public sector and other jobs, and the long queues, which will no doubt exist as people have to deal with the various transactions, would have been eased by the technology. As more than one council chief executive has put it to me: “Great. We could do things quickly for most of our residents and then spend more time on those with great need.”

The Minister has painted the register as some terrible wicked Big Brother thing but, potentially, it was a useful tool for making life more convenient for the citizen, in a secure way. It would have been far more secure and far less clunky than the passport database. I can only conclude that the Minister would rather return to a bygone era, when we were all known in our village and could not get away with anything because the local police beat officer knew our mum and dad. Can you picture, Mr Streeter, the halcyon days when no one travelled?—[Interruption.] You might be too young to remember them, Mr Streeter, as am I. I can only imagine what it must have been like. We now live in a world in which hundreds of thousands of people move around far more—internationally and from town to town. We do not live in a world where everyone would know that Meg Hillier really was Meg Hillier. We are always being  asked to prove that, and I felt very secure knowing that I had my information on a database. I was looking forward to the roll-out of the technology.

I think that the Minister is living in a different era. He is Minister for the Home Department in this era of terrorism and identity fraud risk, an era in which the database would have protected the British public. I would like him to think seriously about what he plans to do to protect the British public in the future. Rolling back the state is all very well; it sounds an appealing gesture. However, we should not roll it back to such an extent that it causes inconvenience and reduces the security of the British public in their day-to-day existence. Things that most of the time will not happen but could happen are an issue. The Minister’s decisions might win him brownie points with certain lobby groups, but I think that in five or 10 years’ time—I cannot say when—he will not be so popular, because people will realise that, having proceeded with the clause, he has thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Opposition Whip (Commons)

I do not want to detain the Committee for long, but I have a query about clause 3, which I do not think the Minister addressed. I do not doubt the Minister’s intentions or sincerity in any way, and I am sure that if clause 3 stands part of the Bill it will be the Minister’s intention to comply with it. However, during his fairly brief contribution on the clause, he told us what he was going to do, but not how.

I was struck that on page 12 of the House of Commons research paper on the Bill, after stating that under clause 3 the register would cease to exist, it says:

“How the information would be deleted and how this process would interact with other material stored on the relevant databases is a point of detail that merits further clarification.”

It probably does. Could the Minister give us that further clarification? Otherwise, we will pass a clause without any knowledge of how it will be transacted, and that is not exactly the purpose of scrutinising a Bill.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Immigration

The hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch set up a whole gallery of straw men, which she then attacked. Her worst point—I normally try to start with the best point—was when she went off on the subject of how I was putting the county’s security at risk. That is a hugely serious accusation to make about any Minister. About 10 minutes previously, she admitted that a voluntary ID card scheme would have no effect on security at all—and she insisted that it would have been voluntary. I therefore urge her to drop the line of argument that suggests that abolishing the ID card scheme puts the security of the country at risk. If she will not take that from me, let me give her a quote:

“Perhaps in the past the Government, in its enthusiasm, oversold the advantages of identity cards. We did suggest, or at least implied, that they might well be a panacea for identity fraud, for benefit fraud, terrorism, entitlement and access to public services. In its enthusiasm, the Government had over-emphasised the benefits to the state.”

That was from Tony McNulty, who was then the Home Office Minister responsible for policing, crime and counter-terrorism. [Interruption.] If the hon. Lady says, as she just did from a sedentary position, that she has in her time said the same thing, she should stop trying to say the exact opposite in this Committee.

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

The Minister needs to be clear that I have never said—nor, as I recall, have any of my colleagues—that identity cards or the register would be a panacea for terrorism. If only any Home Office Minister, Minister or Member of Parliament had the ability to create a panacea for terrorism. That would be fantastic. Let us repeat the simple point that terrorists and criminals use multiple identities. Anything that makes it harder for them daily to go about that business is a help. Anything that protects an individual from others taking their identity helps. Those are important points and the Minister should not just dismiss them.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Immigration

Those were not the points the hon. Lady made in her previous speech. I agree with her, when she stops knocking down straw men, that the essential point is the proportionality of risk and reward from the ID card scheme, but it is on whether there is that proportionality that we disagree fundamentally. She thinks the rewards of the ID card scheme are huge and the risks low. I think the rewards are very low—if any—and the risks are very large. That is just a straightforward difference between us.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Opposition Whip (Commons)

I am always interested when people start using quotes. Was Michael Howard talking nonsense when he said to the Tory party conference,

“In time, carrying your ID card would seem as natural as carrying a credit card is at the moment”?

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Immigration

It is on the record that when Michael Howard was leader and the Conservative party went through a phase of being in favour of ID cards, I voted against the idea. Someone earlier said that they were getting inconsistent messages from me. I can happily assure Members—particularly new ones, as I think it was a new Member who said that—that I have been entirely consistent on the subject. The only time in 13 years of opposition that I ever rebelled against a three-line Whip was over ID cards. I am entirely consistent on this measure.

There are disagreements within parties. There are plenty of people in the Labour party who, very honourably, have always stood out against ID cards, even when under extreme pressure from Whips such as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak. Parties have moved on. Just as the Conservative party, under its current enlightened leadership, has moved on—and now has a very sensible attitude to ID cards—so I hope that in the new era that will perhaps dawn under a new Labour leader, the Labour party will rediscover the bit of its tradition that cares about civil liberties.

It would be better for politics in this country if the Labour party rediscovered some kind of commitment to civil liberties. If there are hon. Members in the Labour party who think they could go out on a limb and do that, I commend doing so. Five years ago, I rebelled against my party to vote against the Identity Cards Bill. I am now standing at the Government Dispatch Box to get rid of it. If one does something one believes to be right, occasionally in politics the wheel turns and one gets to achieve one’s aim.

The hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch had the cheek to talk about costs. She will know as well as I do that the principal cost that we are saving through  the abolition of the scheme, the identity register and so on is the £800 million that was to be spent either by citizens or directly by the state on rolling out the system over the next 10 years. That is a huge amount of money that will be available for more useful things.

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

I cannot let the Minister get away with the idea that there is £800 million waiting to be spent on more useful things. That is in individual people’s pockets at £30 a time. Unless the Government are proposing a flat-rate £30 tax on anyone who might have got an ID card, that is not money available to Government. We should be clear about that.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Immigration 3:15, 1 July 2010

Exactly. That, again, is the difference between us. I know that the money is not available to Government, but it is available to citizens, and I do not think that the Government should take £30 out of citizens’ pockets. I regard money in the hands of citizens as at least as valuable as money in the hands of Government, if not more valuable.

Moving on to the national identity register, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak, is right that it is not a single, bleeping box with the information in it; the information is around various databases. We are in discussion with the contractors who operate all those databases on how to remove individual pieces of information without removing all the information. It is not hugely difficult technically, and the contractors are working on the matter.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Opposition Whip (Commons)

I do not mean to sound uncharitable, but am I right to conclude from the Minister’s words that he does not know how he will do that? He is asking me to approve something without being able to tell people exactly how it will happen. Is that a fair conclusion to draw?

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Immigration

The hon. Gentleman knows that that is not a fair conclusion to draw. Otherwise he would not be drawing it. [ Interruption. ] That was a compliment. At the moment the technical matters are being dealt with by the contractors who operate the various databases. It would require a long technical paper, not an explanation at the Dispatch Box, to set that out. If he wants that paper at some stage, I will happily provide him with one.

The debate has been interesting, as the clause is at the heart of the Bill—that is the one thing that the hon. Lady and I can agree on. I have pleasure in commending the clause to the House.

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

The Committee divided: Ayes 10, Noes 7.

Division number 2 Decision Time — Clause 3

Aye: 10 MPs

No: 7 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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

Adjourned till Tuesday 6 July at half-past Ten o’clock.