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Mr. Blunkett: I must disappoint my hon. Friend on the first point. It is not the Government's intention to go down the road of compulsion to carry. I agree that, should Parliament determine in the future that we move to a smart card, it would be possible for individuals to choose what went into the chip. It would not be for Government to decide, whatever has been said this afternoon, and whatever sneers have been made. Individuals could decide to have additional information on the chip to be used in certain circumstances.
I responded to my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) by acknowledging that the history on technology has been poor. That is why we are proposing to go through the passports system and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency. I do not accept that my Department, now or in the past, has deliberately passed people's information to other agencies or has undermined their freedom. If Members have information to the contrary, they should bring it forward, rather than make such allegations.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): May I address that part of the concept which implied that the production of the entitlement card will be a necessary precondition to services, benefits and perhaps work? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that if we are to go down that road, it is essential that in the event of a genuine holder losing a card, there should be a rapid and effective way of verifying the possession of such a card in the past? If that is not the case, genuine cardholders will be deprived of their ability to obtain goods, services, benefits and perhaps work. Why should we accept that the technology, which so far the Government have been minded to apply in the case of passports, will produce such a rapid and effective solution?
Mr. Blunkett: Because the United Kingdom Passport Service now turns applications around in 24 hours. I am proud that we have made considerable progress on this front. We need to be able to replicate what happens with lost credit cardspeople have their cards cancelled and a new dated reissue provided very quickly. That is what is intended[Interruption.] However, on a lighter note,
David Winnick (Walsall, North): Is my right hon. Friend aware that despite what he has said, there is a real fear among many people that the card would become compulsory and antagonise many law-abiding people, as happened in the immediate post-war years? It is interesting that the term "entitlement" rather than "identity" card is used, because the latter is such a discredited term.
Is my right hon. Friend also aware that there is considerable doubt whether any card such as he has described would deal effectively with criminality, hence the reason why there are many objections? Finally, may I say to him in all friendliness that the sooner this idea is buried as quickly and decently as possible, the better?
Mr. Blunkett: I am always pleased to have friendly advice from behind me. We will see what the British people decidethat is why we are providing a six-month consultation period, which is what will matter. We are not back in 1952; we are not in the business of pretending that somehow Parliament will be taken over by those who will take away people's liberty. One reason why Governments who respond, who listen and who sometimes acknowledge that they have made mistakes should be applauded rather than ridiculed is that the British people can get rid of us.
Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden): Is the Home Secretary aware that when the Labour Government in Australia consulted on a similar measure, it was, as I am sure this will be initially, extremely popular? However, as the argument progressed and the implications became increasingly apparent, opposition grew until some 90 per cent. of the population of Australia were opposed to the idea of an identity card, and it contributed to the fall of the Australian Governmentan outcome that I wish to see here. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us how long it will be before this proposal joins those for e-mail snoopers and asylum vouchers in the graveyard for illiberal measures that the Government have introduced?
Mr. Blunkett: I loved the right hon. Gentleman's concluding words. After all, we are coming up to the 10th anniversary of his "little list". If anybody should give us lectures about liberality, it is certainly not the right hon. Gentleman.
I met the leader of the Australian Opposition yesterday and talked to him about the card. I said that there was a great deal to learn from the Australian experience, and he said that it was quite likely that the present Government, whose outlook is very close to the right hon. Gentleman's heart, might well seek to reintroduce it.
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): I welcome the Home Secretary's assurance that people might be able to choose what information was put on the cards. Does he accept, however, that while some of us might see a role for a card that proved identity and did no more, there is deep anxiety about the privacy implications of data sharing and the fact that people would carry data around with them on the cards? Will he ensure that that issue is highlighted during consultation?
Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell): May I put it to the Home Secretary that his statement has hardly helped the case of those of us who are broadly in favour of the introduction of an identity card at some time? I suggest that the introduction of a benefit entitlement card would be the best move initially. My constituents see no reason why that should not be done, and feel that it would be feared only by those trying to defraud us.
Mr. Blunkett: But if it is good enough for benefit recipients, it is good enough for all of us. As I said earlier, in tackling benefit fraud we must recognise the existence of a range of organised fraudulent activities on an unprecedented scale that could not have been envisaged 10 years ago. Organised gangs are moving in on credit card and smart card technology with the aim of defrauding us all. That was why it was thought appropriate to discuss which services should be accessible by card and how we should protect ourselves against fraud.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): Is the issue of identity cards devolved? I have an awful suspicion that many Members of the Scottish Parliament will jump up and down and say that it is a matter for them rather than for the House of Commons.
What would the Home Secretary say to the senior, and thoughtful, Scottish police officer who, when I said I was broadly in favour of identity cards, replied "Hang on a moment. Identity cards might make the job of the police not less but more difficult, because of assumptions about those holding such cards"? I repeat, is this a devolved issue?
Mr. Blunkett: I should be happy to hear from the individual to whom my hon. Friend spoke, because the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Police Superintendents Association and the Police Federation are all in favour and welcome the debateand, in varying guises, they cover Scotland as well.
I look forward to seeing everyone jump up and down, but also to a sensible and rational debate. As I said a moment ago, the Scottish Executive have moved further than we have in England, in that the facility is devolved in terms of administration but not in terms of policy.
Mr. Blunkett: The hon. Gentleman asks three questions. On his first, I am happy to do as he asks, including studying the Swedes' move towards the use of such a card, having experienced a more informal system. I agree that forgery is an issue, which is why the question of biometrics is so important. It is virtually impossiblenothing is entirely impossibleto forge the iris, which is why people across the world are moving towards that system. I accept that massive claims for cards have been made that have not been reaped, but I have not made such claims, including ruling out their substantial contribution to countering terrorism.
We estimate that a plastic card would cost an additional £10, and a smart card some £14 to £15, which includes the interchange at the point of swipe. We also estimate that, over a 13-year periodthe discount period in terms of set-up and replacement costsputting through some 67.5 million cards would cost £1.5 billion. The £10 to £15 charge is predicated on that 13-year discount.