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Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, is the noble Baroness arguing that under no circumstances that she can foresee are identity cards relevant? What is she arguing?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, "No" is the quick answer. The longer answer will emerge in Committee. I am prepared to give the Government a chance to prove that ID cards might be of benefit in some circumstances. I am not convinced that this is the constructed Bill, nor these the circumstances, that will achieve the benefits that the Government have put forward. Unlike the Government, I really am prepared to listen. But patience is running out, given that there has been so little consideration in the House and so much outside.

The costs are a matter of deep argument between the Government and those who criticise the Bill. I have seen reports that conventional wisdom puts the overall cost at somewhere between £10 billion and £20 billion. We will obviously have the chance to examine that in Committee, and no doubt on Report and at Third Reading.

We will also need to look at civil liberties. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, that that is the one issue I carry in my heart; it has to be considered whatever identity card scheme one wants to introduce. That is why, for me, it will underpin our debates throughout the Bill's proceedings.

There are real concerns about civil liberties. The proposed scheme will involve the establishment of the behemoth of the national identity register, the use of the latest technology and the gathering of information on millions of people. That register will be the hub that allows the collation of, and access to, vast amounts of data on individuals—the audit trail which the Minister mentioned—from many government databases. Parliament must oversee the nature of the data used on the cards and control who has access to them.

Any project with such huge financial and constitutional implications needs to be justified clearly, as a proportionate and effective response to social need. So far, the Government have not justified the method they have adopted in this skeletal enabling Bill. Unless they can do so, I shall have to remain of my view that the Government's proposals are not just expensive but excessive, not just illiberal but impractical, and not just unnecessary but unworkable.

3.43 pm

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, we on these Benches oppose the Bill as it stands, and strongly. ID cards look impeccable in theory, but the claims made
 
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for them usually do not withstand critical scrutiny. The major London School of Economics review of this scheme is such a case.

What none of us wants is a pig in a poke, however grandiose. What none of us wants—even the Government, I think—is a slippery slope, at the bottom of which broods an over-mighty state, where the privacy of the citizen is largely figmentary, the whole culture of freedom is undermined and the managerialist and corporatist values that now seem to dominate the public as well as private realms triumph.

The Bill may have only 43 pages—short by modern standards—but it is dauntingly complicated and impenetrable. To that extent, it is apt to be counter-productive, as was the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, and will, rightly, heighten citizen anxiety and suspicion.

Before going any further, I commend the work done on the Bill by the House of Lords Constitution Committee, the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the many organisations outside the House that have given great thought to its provisions. I chaired the distinguished advisory committee convened by Liberty, and its work as well as that of Justice deserves the highest praise, as does that of the Law Society, the Foundation for Information Policy Research, NO2ID and the London School of Economics.

The long title of the Bill is:

However, as soon as we plunge into Clause 1, we see that the Bill is not just about identification and registration of citizens, as the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, seemed to imply, but about collecting information on citizens—in Clause 1(3)(b). The Minister will say—indeed, she did say—that it can be done only where there is the necessary public interest. However, that is defined in Clause 1(4) extremely widely, the last category being:

Noble Lords may think that that is fair enough, but public services are also defined in Clause 43 (2) in the widest way:

including any such service provided by any "public authority". What is a public authority? Under the Human Rights Act 1998, to which the definition refers, it includes hundreds and hundreds of organisations such as the Student Loans Company, the Gaming Board for Great Britain, and UK Sport. The definition of public services itself goes far too wide and opens a veritable Pandora's box.

Such latitude is much extended by the many powers in the Bill allowing the Secretary of State to act by order to extend—for example and crucially—the scope of the information to be kept on the register under Clause 1. By Clause 4, the Secretary of State can by order make passports "designated", which would then have them treated as identity cards for the purposes of the Bill. The Secretary of State can go further under
 
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Clause 6 and make the whole scheme compulsory for everyone. The noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, was fair enough to say that we should look at the Bill against the probability of compulsion. There is a plethora of other such powers, which is why the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, was correct to call it a skeleton Bill.

Another trap is in Clause 3(5), which states:

In effect, he can extend the information that can be forced out of every citizen by order. The Government maintain that they have no malign intent, nor any current plans to use their vast array of order-making powers. One must agree with both those propositions. However, their manifesto rather gave the game away. It said that they would,

"Initially" is the key word. When the Minister winds up the debate, it would be good to hear how soon she expects compulsion to arrive.

It is often said—we hear it repeatedly—that if you have nothing to fear you should welcome ID cards; that many other nations have them; that the police want them; and that ID cards will merely bring us into the 21st century in better shape to fight terrorism, crime, illegal immigration, social security fraud, identity theft, Uncle Tom Cobley and all. It was the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, who warned, none the less, about our sleepwalking into the very position that we believe will be created by the Bill unless it is much reformed. The reason that the commissioner used that vivid metaphor is surely that any down-to-earth, commonsense assessment of the capacity of the state to undertake the phenomenally complicated and sensitive task of establishing a national register without cock-up, incompetence or subversion is bound to be a negative verdict.

No comparable project to the one that we are contemplating exists on Earth. Apart from our track record with big computers, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, referred, what is one supposed to make of the secure bank of fingerprints and genetic samples held under the provisions of our criminal law? It was audited a few years back and was found to contain over 50,000 sets of information that had been illegally retained.

It is not even as if the industry that would be the beneficiary of this gargantuan undertaking thinks it likely, to use the language of Clause 1, to deliver a "secure and reliable" outcome. Gary Fishenden, writing in The Scotsman, said that the national register would be a honeypot for hackers worldwide, which would,

The same view has been echoed from across the Atlantic, where they have eschewed such grandiosity.
 
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Interestingly, not only did the Australians abandon their ID scheme after some initial enthusiasm, but in 1992 the New South Wales Royal Commission, which had reported exhaustively on the security of state-stored citizens' information, scathingly concluded that the corrupt use and sale of such sensitive information had reached "endemic and epidemic proportions". Although one may make jokes in the direction of Australia, I suggest that may not be so different from what we will experience here.

If there were more time, I would quote from the most recent report of the Fraud Advisory Panel, an independent body of experts including senior policemen, a former director of the Serious Fraud Office, lawyers, accountants and bankers. I will read just one quotation:

the old ones. The report says that,

I suggest again that that is precisely what the Microsoft expert warned against.

Some 89 per cent of large companies reported last year that they had experienced hi-tech crime, which cost nearly £2.5 billion. I mention that to illustrate the probability of any scheme that we may come up with for securing ID information and its use being circumvented by the determined sharks that now infest our country.


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