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Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe): My right hon. Friend is aware that I have pursued this issue for some months. There was much debate about the information that could be held on the card, and I welcome point 6.12 of the consultation paper, which suggests that it is possible to have a basic card just for identification purposes. Does he accept the view of many in the information technology industry that the way forward is indeed a basic identification card that gives access to a wide variety of databases of the individual's choice? Does he also accept that although he—like me—is attracted to the proposals, it would be sensible to have a voluntary pilot phase, so that the scheme can be shaken down before we establish full national coverage?

Mr. Blunkett: I accept all those points, including the latter one. It is perfectly feasible, as people have their driving licence or passport renewed at a pilot stage, to experiment. If we decide to go ahead, it would be sensible to proceed on that basis.

I did not answer the earlier question about my predilection. I do have a predilection for arguing that we should seriously consider the proposal, but like most Government Members I would not stake the Government's future on it.

Annabelle Ewing (Perth): The SNP-Plaid Cymru group has serious concerns about the proposal. If everyone will be required to register for a card, surely that makes having a card—as opposed merely to carrying one physically—compulsory in anyone's language. Does the Home Secretary agree that in legislating for Scotland on this clearly devolved matter, Westminster is once again acting in breach of the Scotland Act 1998?

Mr. Blunkett: I sincerely hope that we can lift the debate a little above that level. There is a requirement to

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register for the census—in fact, one can be fined for not doing so. The issuing of a card does not force anyone to use it, although in terms of drivers or passport users, or if services—whether public or private—required some proof of identity before expenditure was laid out, without proof of identity and therefore entitlement to do it I doubt whether non-use of it would last very long. I am not sure that this is an issue specifically for Scotland, England, Wales or Northern Ireland; it is an issue wherever one lives. Accent and geographical location do not change the issue one iota.

Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham): I entirely support my right hon. Friend's proposal for entitlement cards and the associated consultation process, and I should like to think that we can have a full consultation process on compulsory ID cards for all our citizens. Society has become less honest and more violent, and the issue is one on which I have changed my mind. When circumstances change, it is right that we change our policies and perhaps our minds. Will he tell the House whether his mind is still open on the matter of compulsory ID cards for all our citizens?

Mr. Blunkett: I said in February, and I repeat today, that the Government are not in favour of compelling people to carry the card with them, which has historic connotations. The consultation will be about the development of the sensible use of the card. In this country, we have got used to adversarial politics on a grand scale on every issue—as we saw earlier this afternoon—and if one launches a consultation and asks people to respond, teeth are bared and the knives come out immediately. I genuinely think that we should ask the British people and see what they think.

Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton): The Home Secretary will be aware that the asylum seekers entitlement card contains 30 different records, including photographs, fingerprints, employment status and number of child dependants. He will also be aware that the information on the card can be read by officials using a quick-check reader, but the details cannot be read by the holder of the card. In his statement, he gave the example of passports, but all the information on a passport can be read by the holder, despite the fact that it can be passed through a quick-check reader at passport control.

Can the Home Secretary assure the House that if identity cards are to be introduced, individuals will have full and easy access to the information contained on their own cards? What personal information will be contained on a card of the type for which he has a predilection?

Mr. Blunkett: I indicated that the information would be that sought already for driving licences and passports. It is correct that people should know what is on the card, either because they have submitted it or it has been submitted in their name, and they should have access to it. Under the Data Protection Act 1998, the Data Protection Registrar would need to be assured that that was the case.

Mr. Mark Todd (South Derbyshire): While I welcome the consultation, I hope that it will focus substantially on some of the practical issues, which include, first, whether

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it will yield benefits to our citizens and, secondly—and my question for my right hon. Friend—whether it can be instituted within a reasonable time scale and at a sensible cost. He gave the example of the Passport Service and its markedly improved performance. That was a project with a single aim, but the new scheme would have several different purposes. One can imagine the complexities of such a project, especially when thrust into the hands of the British civil service.

Mr. Blunkett: I think that I have conceded defeat on the last point three times already, but I will concede it again. It is difficult for the Government to implement a complex scheme, which is why it would need to be based on the existing technology developments that have been put in place by the DVLA and UKPS. I accept entirely that the British people will have to feel that it will be of value to them in their day-to-day lives to have a single card that they can use for identification that will be accepted by all the agencies, including the private agencies that currently demand that we show such identification.

We should have a manageable time scale. Discounting the next two or three years—because if we decided to go ahead we would have to legislate—it would take five or possibly seven years to get a fully fledged scheme up and running. That is why I indicated earlier that we were trying to look forward and see where the world would be in 10 years' time and whether we would be alongside it or way behind.

Norman Baker (Lewes): Does the Home Secretary accept that there are dangers as well as advantages from the accumulation of data on such a card? In particular, does he accept that it is right in principle that if an element of the state wishes to have access to information about an individual, that should be narrowly defined? However, access to information on the card will be wide access. He is right to say that he wishes to tackle identity fraud, which is a big problem, but if someone were to gain access to such a card, he would gain access to a range of information about an individual—even if he could not use it directly because of the biometric measures that are proposed—that at the moment would have to be pieced together.

Mr. Blunkett: The latter point applies when people have sophisticated chips on smart cards; it is nothing to do with biometrics, as I said earlier. Biometrics are about whether the card can be forged and therefore whether the identity is correct. As I said earlier, no one has anything to fear from being correctly identified, unless he or she is a fraudster who is seeking deliberately to deceive those delivering a service or the state as a whole.

I do not disagree with the points made. Of course, it would be wrong for people to gain access to information for other purposes, which is why I have stressed that I and the Government envisage in the consultation paper that the information already sought and held would be precisely that which would be needed to operate such a card.

Martin Linton (Battersea): Does my right hon. Friend agree that entitlement cards will not only help in checking people's entitlement to public services and in combating fraud, but assist asylum seekers and others who have

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recently entered this country to establish their right to public services, which can often be very difficult at the moment? Does he accept that the idea of consulting on entitlement cards was unanimously suggested last year by the Home Affairs Committee, on which hon. Members from all three parties serve, including my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (David Winnick), who chaired the meeting at which that was suggested; the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell), who is a Liberal Democrat; and the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), who speaks on asylum for the Opposition?

Mr. Blunkett: One of the privileges of politics and democracy is that people have the right to change their mind, as I discovered a couple of weeks ago, so we are all in this boat together. I am very happy to welcome new converts to the fold if they are at least prepared to consult on the issue, and I appeal to those who have changed their minds the other way that at least thinking about it would be a good idea. I agree that it would be a very positive way to welcome and embrace people's right to gain access to services, to develop their citizenship and to be part of the mutuality that we share.

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