Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


"TECHNICAL ADVISORY BOARD
(1) There shall be a Technical Advisory Board ("the Board") consisting of such number of persons appointed by the Secretary of State as he may by order provide.
(2) The order providing for the membership of the Board must also make provision which is calculated to ensure that—
(a) the membership of the Board includes persons likely effectively to represent the interests of the citizen in respect of civil liberties, with particular reference to the privacy of the individual;
(b) the membership of the Board includes persons likely effectively to represent the interests of the information technology industry, with particular reference to biometrics and the security of the IT infrastructure of the National Identity Scheme;
(c) the membership of the Board includes persons likely effectively to represent the interests of law enforcement and national security;
(d) the membership of the Board includes such other persons as the Secretary of State thinks fit to appoint as members of the Board; and
(e) the Board is so constituted as to produce a balance between the representation of the interests mentioned in paragraphs (a) to (d).
(3) The order providing for the membership of the Board must also make provision which is calculated to ensure that the Board reports to both Houses of Parliament on an annual basis.
(4) The Secretary of State shall not make an order under this section unless a draft of the order has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House.
(5) It shall be the duty of the Board to offer advice on the development of the National Identity Scheme."

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I apologise for having been unable to attend the last day in Committee just before Christmas, when this matter would have been debated. I therefore hope that your Lordships will forgive me for retabling both this and other amendments on Report. The amendment proposes the establishment of a technical advisory board to advise on a number of areas relating to the development of the national identity register. I express gratitude to my noble friend Lord Cope. I have, as it were, borrowed the text of the amendment from him. Although I have broadened its scope somewhat, the House may recognise it from a previous incarnation as an amendment that he made to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.

The proposal is in part motivated by the recognition of the Constitution Committee of,

I can be certain that the Government will reject the amendment. As did the Minister earlier in our proceedings and in her helpful letter of 11 January—I thank her for it—she will list the various bodies that have been established to develop the scheme to fruition: the biometric advisory group, the Home Office's Biometrics Centre of Expertise, the biometrics
 
30 Jan 2006 : Column 59
 
assurance group and so on. Nevertheless, the Government have invested a great deal of political capital in this Bill. It is a key component of their legislative programme for this Parliament. It is not unreasonable to suggest that our scrutiny so far has exposed manifest flaws in the scheme, not least in respect of cost, technology, civil liberties and privacy.

I make it clear that I do not in any way question the integrity or the expertise of the various bodies cited. Nevertheless, they are of necessity creations of government and, to that extent, their remit is rooted in the determination of the Home Office to enact this measure regardless. Quite apart from that, it is worth noting that, in making its recommendation, the Constitution Committee took due account of the bodies already established by the Government. It none the less felt the situation warranted the creation of an outside body to "exercise informed judgment". That is what the amendment would provide. I beg to move.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I fully support my noble friend. The amendment follows a recommendation of the Constitution Committee and it is eminently sensible.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, we on these Benches also think that there is much practical merit in the amendment.

The Earl of Erroll: My Lords, I fully agree with the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. It is a practical proposal that could well help: the more minds cast on the thorny issue, the better.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am certainly grateful for the brevity of the contributions on this amendment. I shall endeavour to put over as effectively as I can our case in opposition to it. I have a strong sense of déjà vu, because it was I who had to deal with the proposal of a technical advisory board during our consideration of RIPA.

The noble Earl, Lord Northesk, seeks to establish an advisory board to offer advice on the development of the national identity scheme and to report annually to both Houses of Parliament. The board's membership would consist of representatives from the IT industry, biometrics specialists, law enforcement bodies and civil liberties groups. The last groups would have a particular interest in the privacy of the individual.

As the noble Earl said, the amendment was tabled in Committee and was then withdrawn for understandable reasons. As agreed, we addressed the amendment in correspondence at the close of the Committee stage. The letter was copied to all noble Lords who had taken part in the various debates on the Bill. As we stated in that letter, this additional scrutiny of the scheme is neither warranted nor necessary. That is because there is already sufficient independent oversight of the scheme's development.

In the first instance, the National Audit Office will provide an expert and thorough examination of the economy, effectiveness and efficiency of the scheme's
 
30 Jan 2006 : Column 60
 
use of public funds. This is the case for all government projects. However, the identity cards scheme will have several additional layers of scrutiny, as we detailed in our correspondence. For your Lordships' convenience, I will now repeat for the record exactly what we wrote.

The Government's biometrics assurance group will be chaired by the Government's Chief Scientist. It will review the biometric aspects of the ID cards programme, in conjunction with the Home Office's Biometrics Centre of Expertise, led by the Chief Biometric Officer, Marek Rejman-Greene. All this will build on the work of the ID cards agency's own biometric advisers and their co-operation with other recognised biometric research institutes, such as the National Physical Laboratory. This group has already met and will meet quarterly throughout the year.

Additionally, an independent assurance panel will look at project management, finance, procurement and the other aspects of the programme that are not covered by the biometrics assurance group. This panel, which meets monthly, is chaired by Mr Alan Hughes, a former chief executive of First Direct Bank. The chair of the independent assurance panel serves also as a non-executive member of the identity cards programme board. The IT infrastructure of the national identity register will also be put through an official security accreditation process, as laid out in Cabinet Office guidelines, before it can commence operations. Furthermore, this process will be followed by continuing audits of the register's IT security.

The scheme's development is also scrutinised by the principal users group and private sector users group, which represent the interests of public and private sector organisations who will make use of the scheme. Consultations have taken place between the identity cards programme and special needs groups and we will continue these. Additionally, there is continuing dialogue between law enforcement agencies and the programme team to ensure that their requirements are considered as the scheme develops.

Civil liberties and privacy groups have already taken part in the consultations, which took place on the scheme and on the draft Bill. In addition, the National Identity Scheme Commissioner will provide further scrutiny of the scheme, which will of course also be bound by data protection legislation and therefore comes under the jurisdiction of the Information Commissioner.

I hope that your Lordships would agree that, taken together, those will provide a very great variety and depth of scrutiny. We believe that adding further layers would not add to the quality of scrutiny, but duplicate it and increase the levels and layers of bureaucracy. The technical advisory board is therefore unnecessary. I can reassure the noble Earl that the scheme will not be implemented unless the Government are sure that the technology is robust and effective.

It is worth making a few comments about the comparison with the Technical Advisory Board established under the Regulation of Investigatory
 
30 Jan 2006 : Column 61
 
Powers Act 2000. That board was created under the terms of the Act and is a very different creature from the board suggested in this amendment. The role of the board is very closely defined. It ensures that any technical or financial obligations placed on industry arising from an interception warrant are reasonable. A company can appeal to the board if it believes that this is not the case; to date the board has not had to consider a single case. The board does not provide general advice about the development of operations, based on the Act as a whole. Such general advice is obtained through the close consultation between the Home Office and the industry itself. The board is required neither to report to Parliament, nor to have its membership approved by Parliament.

With the development of the independent assurance panel, the biometrics assurance group, consultations with public sector, private sector and special needs user groups, and the advice of the scheme commissioner, we believe we have put in place a comprehensive framework to ensure independent, wide-ranging and informed advice, which can be obtained to guide the development of the scheme in total. I reject the assertions made by the noble Earl, Lord Northesk, that we are failing to address issues of cost or technology, or the development of the scheme as it unrolls. We have put in place many safeguards and structures to ensure that we have a structure and a number of bodies in place, which will enable us to consult extensively throughout the development of the identity cards programme. For those reasons, we reject this amendment and I invite the noble Earl to withdraw it.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page