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Identity Cards

3.18 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. The Statement is as follows:

    "The House will know that since I made my statement, I have been consulting widely, including on issues of secure and verifiable identification. We are on entirely new territory here. There appear to be many people who think we are talking about an old style card with a photograph. We are not.

    "We undertook the consultation because of the enormity and pace of change. Such changes make it increasingly difficult to protect and authenticate the identity of those seeking work, or drawing down on free public services. But at the same time the development of specific personal identifiers, which are known as biometrics, offer us an opportunity to do just that. This would mean that identity could not be forged or duplicated. Techniques such as fingerprinting, face recognition and the use of the iris, allow us to develop a database capable of foiling duplicate or stolen identity. These developments will enable us to deal with the growing threats to the security and prosperity of Britain from identity theft, fraud, and illegal migration.

    "Two things have changed from the discussion of identity cards on previous occasions: the changed world in which we are operating and the introduction of new biometric identifiers. There is near universal support internationally for the idea of developing biometric identifiers. For example, the United States is about to introduce a scheme where you must have a biometric passport in order to

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    benefit from existing visa waivers. Those without such developments will increasingly find themselves exposed to and targeted by international criminals.

    "In such circumstances public demand for action would become overwhelming. But Britain without such developments would have missed an opportunity to protect ourselves and promote the best interests of individuals and families. In addition, the security services have indicated to me that they would value improved methods of verifying identity and counteracting the use of multiple identities. Again, it is obvious that terrorist networks would target those countries that had made least progress in developing the capacity to provide this protection.

    "All of us know that identity fraud costs us dear. As individuals, as corporate entities and as a nation we are open to tremendous exploitation. It is therefore common sense to prepare now for the future. As I have indicated, it would not be possible to issue cards to the whole population through a big bang approach, even if this were desirable. We therefore intend to proceed in two phases.

    "In phase one we would begin to issue biometric identifiers through the renewal of passport and driving licences. As I said in the consultation paper last July,

    'as well as being convenient for the general population, building on the driving licence and passport systems would help to spread demand for the new documents and avoid delays in issuing them promptly'.

As soon as the database is available we would commence issuing identity cards to EU and foreign nationals seeking to remain in the country. We would also make available an optional card for those who do not have or wish to have a passport or driving licence.

    "We will move ahead now with all the necessary preparations, but the final decision on a move to the second stage of the scheme, which involves compulsion, will rest with Parliament. Clearly, the Government will take that step only after a rigorous evaluation of the first stage, when we are confident that there is widespread take-up and acceptance of the scheme and that the benefits outweigh the costs and the risks.

    "We would also need to be sure that the concessions were working satisfactorily for those on low incomes and other vulnerable groups. Finally, we would need to be satisfied that all the technical, financial and administrative preparations are in place for it to deliver the benefits we have described. Draft legislation will allow further consultation on all those issues.

    "Parliament would determine under strict criteria what identifiers were necessary on the chip contained in the card, and therefore what should be held on the database. It would not be necessary, for instance, to hold the address of the individual on the face of the card, as with current driving licences, therefore reducing rather than increasing risk.

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    "Let me now turn to a number of issues that I know have been of public concern. In relation to cost, were we to add biometrics to existing identity documents, which I think most people believe is inevitable, we would incur all the expense and the technological development necessary, but without securing the gains. These include clamping down on illegal residents, illegal working and the exploitation of free public services.

    "The ID card scheme will make it possible to make all these benefits available to those who might not need or want a driving licence or passport and who could not otherwise afford such an identity document. We will provide a free card for 16 year-olds, a concessionary charge for those on low incomes, including those in retirement, and the option of a lifelong card for those renewing at the age of 75.

    "We are also looking urgently at how benefits in the business and commercial world can further reduce the overall cost, again in a way which would not be possible simply by updating passports and driving licences.

    "In order to avoid accusations of under-estimating the cost, we have chosen to build in a substantial contingency. We estimate that the basic cost would be, over a 10-year period, 35. All but a very small amount of this would be necessary in introducing biometrics in any case. This addition would be in the region of around 4 over the 10-year period. We would ensure that the basic cost of a card could be paid for by individuals in a variety of ways. Some people could choose to pay incrementally, through such mechanisms as saving stamps and credits.

    "I should emphasise that it will not be compulsory for anyone to have to carry the card with them, any more than it is with the driving licence today. Although its use would be very helpful to public services, until the scheme became compulsory, it would not be necessary to present a card to access those services. Clearly, however, as the most reliable form of identity, it will gradually become commonplace and convenient to use the card. But of course no one will be denied access to emergency services because they do not have a card.

    "In order to protect the private details of individuals, Parliament will prescribe the information to be held on the chip and on the database. Information would be limited to that required to verify identity. Privacy and confidentiality would be an essential part of the system. The protection of civil liberties would be assured in a way which is not the case for a whole range of commercial identifiers and card systems in widespread use at the moment.

    "Let me make it clear: no one has anything to fear from being correctly identified, but everything to fear from their identity being stolen or misused.

    "Focus groups and polling evidence demonstrate around 80 per cent support for identity cards. With the cost of secure identification being necessary,

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    with or without an ID card, I believe that the proposals I am setting out will win widespread support.

    "This is about asserting our sense of identity and belonging, about our citizenship and about reinforcing the balance between rights and responsibilities. That is why I commend this Statement to the House and ask for a sensible and thoughtful debate. This is all about addressing the future and having the courage to modernise, to take on the challenges of the 21st century".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.38 p.m.

Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, I thank the Minister for letting me have an advance copy of her Statement.

We from these Benches are deeply concerned that these proposals for the introduction of ID cards fall between two stools: they comprise a considerable threat to civil liberties and personal privacy, but meanwhile bring about none of the benefits that the noble Baroness foresees. I believe that I am not alone in being extremely sceptical about the effectiveness of such a scheme in combating illegal immigration, illegal working and identity fraud and in enhancing security in general.

Why will the scheme not work? First, it certainly will not provide an obstacle to would-be suicide bombers or terrorists plotting an attack in Britain. It is clear that foreign nationals will be able to remain in this country for three months without an identity card. That will provide more than enough time to implement any plot, especially given the nature of international terrorist cells with the means and resources to fly regularly in and out of the United Kingdom. I would be interested to hear from the Minister whether she fosters any hope that identity cards will make life more difficult for terrorists, and, if so, to hear precisely how.

I turn to how introducing ID cards would help to tackle illegal immigration. As I understand it, to begin with at least, there would be no compulsion to carry ID cards. The Minister made that clear. That being the case, surely an illegal immigrant would be able to remain constantly one step ahead of the police, always promising to go to the police station to produce the card when requested, but then vanishing into thin air. Moreover, there is the loophole made explicit by the Home Secretary in another place that a large number of people would be able to access employment and services without ever producing their card. Illegal immigrants will be able to use the fact that EU nationals can stay in Britain for three months and work without any papers.

I really cannot see how identity cards would create any difficulties at all for those whom the cards are supposed to trip up, while providing a considerable invasion of privacy for the law-abiding citizens of this country. With this, as with all new fraud-busting techniques, the criminal would rapidly develop the technology and expertise to get one over those who are trying to catch him. While this does not mean that we should not try, it

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does mean that we should be extremely wary of introducing a scheme that places significant powers in the hands of government at the expense of the individual.

The Statement provides worryingly few clues about who would be able to access information held on the database. As the shadow Home Affairs Minister in another place, my right honourable friend Mr David Davis explained, when the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act was introduced, there were reassurances that private communications would be accessible only to the police. This has now been expanded to include a large number of organisations, including local authorities and the Post Office. What reassurances can the Minister provide to the House that the same will not happen here?

I understand that Parliament will have the opportunity to debate the principle of the ID card but I should welcome an assurance from the Minister that any move towards a compulsory card will be the subject of primary legislation rather than an order.

There is much at risk with the introduction of ID cards. A huge financial investment is on the line quite apart from risks associated with the threats to civil liberty, and I am afraid that those risks are not even close to being matched by benefits that an ID card could bring under the present proposals. The possibility of combating illegal immigration and identity fraud is hugely important, but I cannot see that happening as a result of the proposals set before us today. The whole subject of ID with the latest electronic techniques is a matter of great urgency but we feel that the proposed implementation as announced today is an opportunity missed.

3.33 p.m.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I thank the Minister for providing me with an advance copy of the Statement.

The ID card and the Government's plan for its introduction smack of an incremental approach which is unsatisfactory. I am always suspicious when the Government announce reforms in two stages. What we need is a legislative framework that clearly sets out the uses of the new passports, driving licences and plain ID cards. What is even more important beyond the protection of civil liberties is how this approach would protect privacy. We trust that the draft legislation when introduced will address all those points. The incremental approach means that it will take up to eight years to complete the task of registering the entire population at a cost, I understand, of some 10 billion and an annual running cost of some 500 million.

I do not wish to be unkind to the Home Office but the Government have a poor record in implementing computer systems on time. Only today we hear that a powerful committee of MPs condemns the huge project to put all the nation's magistrates' courts on one computer system. The cost of the scheme has risen from 146 million to almost 400 million while it still does not deliver.

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The contents of the Statement will come as no surprise to anyone—as it seems that the Home Secretary is determined to push ahead with ID cards despite considerable opposition from his own party and, I suspect, the Cabinet. While his measures to upgrade passports and driving licences with new technology may sound initially attractive, does he not recognise that many people will see these as the first step to identity cards? Will the Minister confirm that any legislation on ID cards and new technology will be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny? Will the Minister also confirm that the cost of updated passports and driving licences will be no more than the additional charges people incur, and that the device is not used to inflate passport charges?

On ID cards themselves, does the Minister acknowledge the dangers of falsifying cards and the false security this can create when it comes to terrorism? On benefit fraud will the Minister confirm that the majority of cases are about over-claiming and not falsification of identity? Will the Minister acknowledge that tackling illegal working with ID cards is futile given that illegal work by its nature is part of the black economy? Will the Minister also confirm the estimated cost of the ID cards at 40 per card, and confirm that the poorest members of society will be expected to pay less for that?

There is evidence that ID cards do not cut crime. From what I have read there is not a shred of proof to suggest that they serve that purpose. Indeed, police officers complain that they rarely have trouble identifying criminals—it is catching them that is the real problem.

In addition, does the Minister accept that many people are opposed to compulsory ID cards, but that unless the cards are compulsory and unless the police have the power to arrest—something we should all be worried about—there is little hope of cutting crime as criminals will just not bother to carry their card?

Will the Minister clearly state the purpose of ID cards? Are they for identification purposes only, entitlement to public services or both? Will the Minister acknowledge that if the card is to store biometric data that is a hugely costly and complex undertaking which not a single private institution has seen fit to attempt? If the Government cannot properly roll out their electronic fingerprinting devices in police stations, why should we trust them to make a better go of this?

Finally, does the Minister recognise that the billions of pounds involved in the project outlined today would be better spent providing more police, making our streets safer and tackling crime in this country?

3.37 p.m.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I say immediately to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, that we do not agree that this is a matter of concern. I hear what the noble Lord says about the incremental approach in two phases. I reiterate what was said in the Statement; namely, that we have to grapple with some clear realities. First, this is a huge technological endeavour with which we have to grapple. We cannot avoid the reality that biometric data are here to stay because our international partners are developing them and increasingly they will

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demand, if our systems are to have free and easy passage through their countries—not just the EU but the wider world—that we should have the sort of data which will enable them to do that. That is the reality.

I hear, too, what the noble Lord says about this country's historical inability to undertake large IT programmes. However, I say to the noble Lord that that was under a different administration.

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