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Lord Bassam of Brighton: As ever, this short debate—relatively short in terms of the way in which we are progressing through the Bill—has been valuable, not least because it will enable me to deal with one or two issues that, I can see, are of some concern to noble Lords about our general approach to this legislation and the use of procedures in your Lordships House and in another place.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lyell, made the point that this part of the clause was at the heart of the identity card scheme. I cannot possibly disagree with that. It is a perfectly respectable point, and it helps us to focus on some of the important aspects of Clause 1. It establishes the national identity register and sets out the statutory purposes for which the register is to be established and maintained. In a sense, it takes on the issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell—the worrying tendency of function creep that can sometimes occur in our society—and circumscribes the way in which we see the legislation working.

I shall deal with some of the points as I work through. The noble Earl, Lord Erroll, asked about agencies and parliamentary accountability, which is a respectable point. Over the years in which the UK Passport Agency has been in existence, I have not noticed that there has been a particular lack of facility to hold that agency to account through parliamentary means. Indeed, when a few years ago there were perceived to be some difficulties with the operation of the agency, Parliament played a constructive role in ensuring that Ministers were held to account and that some of the issues and concerns were dealt with very well. That is manifestly the case because, as we all now recognise, the UK Passport Agency is one of the best, and is a top-performing service-providing part of government, to its great credit. So I do not think that we can make the assumption that the agency will be beyond the bounds of parliamentary control. In fact, the reverse is the case. It is our intention that it will be accountable to Parliament through Ministers.

The noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, made a couple of points about our approach to ID cards and the issue of compulsion that merit a response. We made it clear in our manifesto that initially it would be a voluntary scheme, but that was initially. The issue of compulsion was clearly spelled out in our approach to the legislation that we intended to bring in prior to the last general election. The same super-affirmative process
 
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for compulsion was in the draft Bill and in the Bill debated in Parliament in the 2004–05 Session. So there can be no doubt about the Government's policy: it will be a compulsory scheme as long as the issues set out in the policy paper published in November 2003 are satisfied. Those issues dealt with assurances about technology, cost and the impact on people on low incomes and in other vulnerable groups. That deals with that issue.

The other matter that the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, raised was our attitude and approach to the Delegated Powers Committee and its recent report on the Bill. Again, that is a perfectly respectable point and one that I fully understand. Broadly speaking, the Government welcome the report of the Delegated Powers Committee. I have noted that the committee commented favourably on many of the delegated powers that are proposed in the legislation, for example and in particular, in relation to Clause 6, the super-affirmative procedure. The committee concluded that the power in Clause 6 was the most appropriate method of commencing a compulsory scheme. That is a fairly clear-cut endorsement of our approach.

The committee recommended a number of changes. We are looking at those recommendations. We intend to return with some government amendments in response to them. I cannot say—I think that noble Lords would think that I was rather foolish if I did—that we will come back with responses that are exactly in line with each and every recommendation, but we understand the convention that generally surrounds recommendations of the Delegated Powers Committee. Of course we welcome its report and will respond positively to its concerns and, thereafter, our response to those concerns.

Amendment No 5 would add an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy to the establishment of the register. I suggest to noble Lords that the expertise that we already have at our disposal and the specific terms of the Bill will be sufficient to ensure that a register fit for the purposes outlined in the Bill is developed. Requiring parliamentary scrutiny of the form that the register would take would be unnecessary.

As we made clear in one of our earlier responses, an independent assurance panel will cover project management, finance, procurement and the other aspects of the programme not covered by the biometric assurance group. All the security features designed to protect the national identity register and supporting communications infrastructure are being developed carefully and in conjunction with GCHQ's Communications Electronics Security Group, that is the CESG, which is the UK Government's national technical authority for information assurance. There is great confidence in the body.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: The bodies that the Minister has just enumerated—advisory groups and so on, to which the noble Baroness referred earlier and which are chaired by some notable people—are all off the parliamentary radar. Given the reply that the noble Baroness gave to Amendment No. 1, which was
 
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basically to say that she did not think that it was necessary, the Minister must accept that there is unease on this side of the Committee that there is no special parliamentary supervision and control of the manner in which the register will be conducted.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: There is parliamentary control in the sense that such matters can and will from time to time be brought before not just this House but another place, through the process of considering orders and resolutions. That is a very important measure for Parliament to have as a tool to hold the executive to account for the way that the scheme rolls out. The expertise in the Government's national technical authority for information assurance and in the Office of Government Commerce's gateway review process during procurement and the necessity that we develop a register that delivers the scheme that the Bill envisages mean that further parliamentary scrutiny of the development of the register is neither necessary nor appropriate.

For those reasons—because we do not want to over-bureaucratise and because we believe that, certainly on our reading of the Delegated Powers Committee's report, we have things about right in terms of the level of further scrutiny—I suggest to the noble Baroness that, well meaning though her amendment is, it is unnecessary. I invite her to withdraw it.

Baroness Seccombe: We hear what the Minister said about Clause 6, but he has not dealt with the totality of the report. No doubt we will return to that later. If the idea of compulsion was agreed by the Government in 2003, I can only wonder why it was not included in the Labour general election manifesto. So that was a disappointing reply, but we shall return to the role of statutory instruments in legislation as we proceed through the Bill. However, at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 not moved.]

The Earl of Northesk moved Amendment No. 8:

The noble Earl said: I certainly do not underestimate the earnestness of the Government's desire to ensure that the scheme should be convenient. Public trust and acceptance of the scheme, and hence its convenience, is critical if it is to operate successfully. Against that background, I propose to analyse the simple question: convenient to whom? Contrary to the insistence of Home Office Ministers, for significant numbers of people, the identity cards register—I shall not weary of making the point that the register, not ID cards, is the main thrust of the Bill—is a serious matter of principle. In that regard, to state the obvious, such individuals do not regard the proposals before us as "convenient".

As to the practicality of the scheme, on the basis of the evidence to date—here I fear that Members of the Committee opposite, not least the noble Lord, Lord Maxton, will part company with my thesis—
 
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many sections of society will experience considerable difficulties when they attempt to register and/or attempt to verify their biometric details. As we all know, the trials conducted so far have revealed particular problems for some ethnic minorities and those with disabilities. More widely, if a little curiously, the introduction of biometric passports in Germany has revealed that there are particular problems in capturing the facial data of anyone who smiles.

As to verification, the United States General Accounting Office report of 2002 observes—I apologise for the technospeak—that the false non-match rate for fingerprinting, that is to say, the failure of an individual's biometric on subsequent rereading to match the properly enrolled and registered version, can be up to 36 per cent. It is accepted that the failure of facial recognition can be even higher than that.

Although it is possible that, as technology develops, some of those difficulties could be resolved, considerable uncertainty attaches to the overall viability of biometric identifiers as a foolproof method of establishing identity. Quite apart from that, all the biometric identifiers that the Government have suggested as likely to be used for the scheme have already been successfully spoofed or forged by researchers. Clearly, used in the context of a whole nation sample and a one-to-many system, biometrics are far from being infallible—a situation that is likely to pertain for some considerable time.

Moreover, as I understand it—perhaps the Minister could assist the Committee here by fleshing out the Government's plans a little further—it is envisaged that there will be about 70 enrolment centres throughout the UK at which people will be able to register their biometric details. The requirement for individuals to travel long distances—the more so if they are wholly reliant on public transport—does not immediately conjure up a vision of a process that is "convenient". Indeed, thinking about long distances, and to reiterate a concern raised earlier by my noble friend Lord Crickhowell, what will be the position for more than 13 million—I thank my noble friend Lord Selsdon for providing the figure—UK citizens either temporarily or ordinarily resident abroad? Here, I declare a mild interest in that I am an occasional resident in the United States.

As I understand the Government's explanation of the scheme to date, it is intended that, as and when passports are designated, anyone applying for a new or replacement passport will be required to register their biometric details and be issued with the ID card element of the passport. Does that mean that any individual living abroad will have to travel to the UK to obtain the combined passport/ID card, even if they are not required to have the latter because they do not exceed the three-month residence test?

9 pm

What would be the position of a UK national holidaying abroad whose passport/ID card is lost or stolen? Under the scheme as currently envisaged, such
 
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individuals could effectively be rendered stateless. They could not obtain a replacement document from the in-country embassy or consular office because, so far as I am aware, there is no intention to equip them with the necessary machinery for biometric data capture. Or is it the Government's intention that our embassies and consular offices should have such facilities, presumably at not inconsiderable cost? Again, in those circumstances, it is difficult to imagine that those scenarios could be given the tag "convenient".

Moreover, the requirement to pay for the ID card is also an inconvenience, both in terms of perception and fact. Whatever the putative public support for ID cards is, polling evidence most assuredly shows that it dips remarkably once the cost element is factored in. To the extent that the scheme is inconvenient to the general populace, it is in turn inconvenient to the Government themselves. A central tenet of the Government's case is that the ID register and cards will provide a certain means for the individual to establish his or her identity. That lies at the very heart of the scheme and is the single factor, in truth, on which its success or failure primarily depends. Yet, as I have already demonstrated, its biometrics, on current evidence, are incapable of delivering that—certainly not to anything like an appropriate threshold of accuracy. Given that, the worth of the scheme to both government and law enforcement is highly marginal.

If the scheme does not offer convenience either to the population or to the Government and their agencies, who will derive real benefit from it? Jerry Fishenden, the national security officer of Microsoft UK, and others have made the entirely rational point that the very existence of the proposed centralised database could well give rise to,

That is the so-called honeypot effect. Paradoxically, therefore, the scheme as drafted offers greatest convenience to those against whom the measure is purportedly intended to act: terrorists, agents of organised crime and so on.

In effect, the word "convenient" in its context in the Bill is highly subjective. I freely admit that I am no parliamentary draftsman but my experience in your Lordships' House has enabled me to discern that one of the principal aims of good drafting is precision. Yet the subjectivity of the word renders it imprecise, perhaps even close to inaccurate and misleading. I repeat that I in no way question the intention that the scheme should be convenient for its users, be they the Government and their agencies or the public; indeed, provision in the Bill to make that a requirement of the scheme may well be worth pursuing. But that is not what the use of the word in this context achieves. Rather, almost as an element of the dark arts of spin, it presumes and asserts that the scheme will be
 
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convenient come what may. I feel very strongly that that is wholly inappropriate for legislative drafting. In effect, it prejudges the Bill. I beg to move.


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