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Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am delighted to say that I am totally at one with the noble Earl on this issue. Like him, I have never eaten a sheep's horn. Thanks to his Question, I now know more about the practices of border stick dressers than in the past. The point the noble Earl has raised was taken into account when the provisions in regard to the classification of sheep heads as SRM in the United Kingdom were brought in. There have been on-going discussions with the industry about them. We recognised that the initial European proposals did not address this particular problem. As I said, we have raised this specific issue, although the proposals need changing in wider respects than simply this one.

Lord Marsh: My Lords, is not the Minister being rather complacent? This is an unusual building and a number of walking sticks--and possibly shepherds' crooks--are deposited in various parts of it. Given the information they have at their disposal, it is reasonable to ask the Government what guarantees they can give that such items are not a danger to the public.

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Do Black Rod and his staff receive any assistance or advice on how to cope with them? How does one identify them? Finally, is the Minister sure they are not breeding?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I should not wish to give the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, any assurances of which I am not completely certain. Voluminous though my folder is, he has raised issues which are not covered within it. If there are issues upon which Black Rod needs advice, I am sure he will make this clear to the Government. If the noble Lord's question raises issues to which I should respond, I shall do so.

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: My Lords, mindful that it is not unknown for right reverend Prelates in this House to carry around implements of office and mindful that some of those implements of office resemble more closely real shepherds' crooks than the more symbolic kind, would the Minister care to give an undertaking to provide guidance on how such crooks of office may be made in the future?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, the Government's record in terms of protecting the availability of the material necessary has been impeccable so far in terms of national SRM controls. We intend to continue to ensure that such material is available, both for religious purposes--recognising that what we are discussing is not unique to one religion--and for the manufacturers of walking sticks and shepherds' crooks.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, does my noble friend recall that when she was in another place the late Lord Mellish used to keep in the Whips' Office a shepherd's crook with which to correct his flock? I am glad to say that, as a former Whip, I was never forced to ask the Chief Whip to use it on her. On a more serious note, can my noble friend confirm that this matter will be decided by a qualified majority vote? If her colleagues will not go along with that, are we prepared to defy the European Union on this very important matter?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am glad to say that the former Chief Whip in another place never showed me his shepherd's crook. As for the proposals currently before the EU, although there has been a certain amount of levity about them, the matter goes far wider than the issue of horns. The proposals are not satisfactory to industry in this country and at the moment we do not think they are proportionate to the risks. Eventually, this could be decided at the Agriculture Council. We hope that the evidence we have put to the scientific veterinary committee and the scientific steering committee will allow a proportionate approach to be taken and that a sensible solution, providing protection across Europe on the issue of specified risk material, will be able to go forward.

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Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, does the Minister realise that another threat to the shepherd's crook arises from changes by the Forestry Commission to the woodland grant scheme which mean that small woodland grants may be reduced this year and that deciduous trees, which are those used for crooks and walking sticks, will be fewer in number than conifers?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I have not received representations from the manufacturers of walking sticks on that specific aspect. If I do, the Government will certainly look at them with the same care as we have done regarding the availability of sheep horns.

Identity Cards

2.51 p.m.

Baroness Sharples asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will consider the introduction of a national identity card.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, we would consider introducing a national identity card only if we were satisfied that the potential benefits outweighed the drawbacks. Although we are continuing to look at the issues involved, we are not convinced by the arguments in favour of a compulsory national identity card.

Baroness Sharples: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. I have spoken to the police; they approve in principle of a national identity card. With the rapid advances in technology, why can we not consult our European partners and produce a smartcard, which would prove identity not by a photograph but by a thumb print and would contain a great deal of information, such as the holder's blood group, details regarding organ donation, and so on?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the issue of smartcards was looked at closely in the Modernising Government White Paper and we continue to give careful consideration to it. It may well be that smartcards are the way forward in the future. We are keeping that issue under review and shall consider it further.

Lord Mason of Barnsley: My Lords, why does the Home Office dither so much on this question? Is my noble friend aware that in every national poll that has been taken on this the majority favour an ID card system? The Police Federation favours one. Indeed, the majority of letters that go to the Home Office are also in favour. The Select Committee on Home Affairs in another place has also recommended it. So why does not the Home Office recognise that the majority of the nation are in favour of an ID card system? Would it

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not help to cut crime? Would it not help to deal with the illegal immigrant problem? Why, therefore, does not the Home Office act?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the question of identity cards has been looked at by both parties in government. Indeed, members of the Opposition will recall that during their time in government they issued a Green Paper on the issue in 1995. They took the view that a voluntary ID card would be preferable and, as I understand it, that was the view of the Home Affairs Select Committee. There are some drawbacks. Civil liberties and the potential costs are very important considerations. I am sure that those issues are very much in your Lordships' minds. My noble friend referred to the police. I understand that the Association of Chief Police Officers is particularly concerned about national identity cards, first, because the police might end up with part of the responsibility for enforcing their use and, secondly, the association felt that it might well lead to a deterioration or perhaps a breakdown in trust and confidence between the public and the police service.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, as the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency is issuing photo licences, the DSS is thinking about issuing photo cards and the Passport Office is proposing to issue photo identity cards, is there any chance of the Government being "joined up" in this respect?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Lord makes a useful contribution--

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Lord does make a very useful contribution. He always does. I have always enjoyed his contributions. If I may develop the point, "joined up", yes, but there are some practical considerations about which Members of the House may wish to think. If we were to have a passport card which also had on it a driving licence and perhaps details about social security, the card might have to be given out but also withdrawn fairly frequently. What would happen if someone was disqualified from driving but required that same card for passport purposes? Those are technical issues--and difficult ones to resolve. Those are precisely the kinds of issues about which the Government are concerned.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: My Lords, modern smartcards can contain a tremendous amount of information. The police would find them extremely helpful, provided that they were not made compulsory to the extent that it would be an offence not to carry one. That would be a problem for the police in terms of community relations. However, because of the wealth of information that such a card could carry, would it not also help to identify at least who can play rugby for Wales?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Lord's final point is the killer one. But, generally,

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smartcards are to be welcomed. They will begin to develop. As I said earlier, in the 1999 White Paper Modernising Government, we recognised their value, particularly as new technology continues to develop in this field.


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