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Dr. Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): Why does the right hon. Gentleman have a problem with clause 1(4), which clearly outlines the purposes of the Bill? With which of those uses of the Bill does he have a problem?
Mr. Gummer: Well, clause 1(4) may outline the purposes of the Bill, but it is on such a broad canvas that it is like a Tintoretto painting, with many little figures. The Government have focused on a tiny part of the canal and said that they are concerned only about that bit, but they have painted all the rest in because it is pretty and because they might be concerned about that campanile at a later stage. That is a fanciful example, but perhaps it will cheer up those listening to the debate.
Mr. Hogg: My question for my right hon. Friend is in part a response to the hon. Member for City of Durham (Dr. Blackman-Woods). When my right hon. Friend sounds out the Minister, as he is doing so clearly, he may wish to ask what aspect of government does not fall within the definition of
Mr. Gummer: My right hon. and learned Friend has underlined the point that my metaphor of a great painting is far too small. The Bill will enable the Government to use the ID card and the register to discover the number of times an individual has used a public library, if they decide that discovering that fact is in the national interest. The hon. Lady must understand that the clause would enable the Government to discover anything they likeprobably not the number of times a person uses public lavatories, but that could be one of the examples.
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): When my right hon. Friend asks the Minister to place that document in the Library, will he also ask him to place in the Library a draft of the 60 statutory instruments that the Bill will give the Secretary of State the power to produce?
My right hon. and learned Friend is quite right. Will my right hon. Friend also ask the Minister to produce, as the Government promised they
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would in Committee, the code of practice on penalties, which is referred to in clause 36? We are legislating in a vacuum, and it is essential that my right hon. Friend presses his point because, unless the detail of the Bill is got right now, the public will be at a loss.
Mr. Gummer: My hon. and learned Friend is, of course, absolutely right, but my difficulty in increasing the number of things that I want to ask the Minister to do is that I will reveal to the world that close-kept secret that there is no information about anything that is detailed enough for anyone to make a real judgment about the Bill. I am not saying this from any antagonistic position. I want identity cardsthey are a good ideabut the Minister is making it quite impossible for anyone who is logically, sensibly approaching this matter to vote for the Bill, for we know nothing about all the key issues. Without that knowledge, how am I to reassure my constituents, whom I have always told that I want identity cards I have always supported themthat this proposal does not run counter to everything else that I have ever told them?
Lembit Öpik: Will the right hon. Gentleman add a further request to the long list of questions about the intention? Will he ask the Minister to explain how the Government will guarantee that no one with a mind to corrupt and abuse the database can gain access to it and perhaps gain employment by doing so? Obviously, if there is corruption on the inside, the system falls apart. I suspect that the Government will not be able to give that guarantee.
Mr. Gummer: The Minister will have heard the hon. Gentleman's sensible proposition. The Minister has received a number of requests, so I shall leave him with an answer: he ought to think seriously about taking the whole thing out of the Government's control. It seems to me that the Bill would be acceptable only if it were entirely independently controlled and all these issues were decided not by the Government and not by the weight of government. Frankly, these decisions are too important to be made by people who are parti pris. For the Government to decide what they think is in the public interest when what they will decide is what they think is in their interest, which is a wholly different thing, seems to be too great a power for the House to give to the Government. Therefore, I ask the Minister, please, not only to answer my questions, but to seek a different format that will ensure that, in this the mother of Parliaments, we do not give away to the Government powers that no previous generation has ever been willing to give.
Andy Burnham: I apologise to those Opposition Members who still wish to speak, but this section of debate will conclude at a quarter to 6, and a lot of serious issues have been raised about the purpose of the scheme, so it is only right to address them in detail.
Clause 1, with which we are preoccupied, sets out the purpose of the national identity register, and I would tell the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) that two very clear statutory purposes
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for the Bill are given in that clause: first, to provide a convenient method by which individuals can prove who they arehe recognised that he might indeed welcome thatand, secondly, to provide a secure and reliable method by which public bodies and others can ascertain identification and thereby better serve the public interest.
The register will only work if there is a way to check that an individual belongs to the ID, so verification systemsperhaps using some form of scannerwill be needed. Does the Minister agree that, every time we embark on a plane flight, we will have to confirm who we are by using some form of system to verify the card itself?
Andy Burnham: I most certainly do. When the hon. Gentleman travels on an aeroplane, I think he will find that he has to carry identification with him. That is nothing new, but by moving to a highly secure means of identification we can be sure that the people sitting in aeroplanes are who they claim to be. That is one of the principal reasons why we are introducing the Bill.
The point that Opposition Members seem to be missing is that, although they may not like it, the running of society depends on identification. Every day, millions of transactions are carried out by public and private sector bodies to ascertain people's identity. It is directly in the interest of us all, as individuals and as citizens, that those checks be carried out to the highest possible standard and as efficiently as possible.
Andy Burnham: I know that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is assiduous in these matters and always reads the legislation, but perhaps I might refer him to paragraphs (a) to (e), subsection (4) of clause 1, where he will see clearly set out the purposes of the Bill and the functions for which we are introducing it. His answer is before him.
The Minister referred to the fact that people should be able to prove who they are, and in answer to the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) cited the usefulness of passports in establishing people's identity before they went on a flight. The difference between a passport and an identity card, as far as I can work out, is that for a passport one's identity must be vouched for by a responsible person such as a doctor, magistrate or Member of Parliament. Will every person who registers for an identity card have to obtain an endorsement from an outside person?
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Andy Burnham: That is not just for passports. Catching an internal flight in the UK requires a form of identification and the ID card would provide a useful means of doing that. As my hon. Friend knows, we are describing a system that would utterly change the method of applying for passports. It will involve moving to a system of application by interview, whereby the individual is present when they are enrolling their biometrics. That is the premise on which the scheme is being rolled out. That front-end systemthe higher standard of identity checkwill give my hon. Friend the guarantees that he seeks.
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