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Identity Cards

Volume 268: debated on Tuesday 12 December 1995

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To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what plans he has to choose pilot areas for the introduction of the new cards for social security claimants. [3570]

The Benefits Agency is working closely with Post Office Counters Ltd. on the implementation of the new system of benefit payment. Consultations with groups representing customers are also under way. I expect to take a decision on pilot areas once the private sector service provider is selected early next year.

As the Isle of Wight Liberal Democrat-controlled council has repeatedly called for the early introduction of identity cards and has recently scrapped the direct payment of housing benefit to good landlords, which has given rise to unconfirmed reports of an increase in the fraudulent encashment of cheques, will my hon. Friend consider introducing new cards for social security claimants to the Isle of Wight as a pilot study? After all, its boundaries are finite and I think that I can promise him that he would have the support of the entire community and that the pilot study would lead to a thoroughgoing success.

No one fights harder for the interests of the Isle of Wight than my hon. Friend.


I shall consider early next year the benefits paid on the Isle of Wight when considering pilot areas. The new benefit payment card is one of several measures to deal with instruments of payment fraud. These measures are succeeding and the new card will save about £150 million a year when fully implemented.

Will the Minister guarantee that it will not be possible for smart cards for social security claimants to be used as general-purpose identity cards? Will he confirm that he, unlike the Home Secretary, has a regard for civil liberties and that he and his colleagues at the Department of Social Security would not agree to the concentration of large amounts of personal information about individuals in a form dangerously convenient to politicians and officials of an authoritarian bent?

The hon. Gentleman knows that the cards are designed for those who wish to receive their payments through the Post Office. It will be a much more cost-effective, efficient and safer way of providing funds to them. If individuals wish to use the cards to assert their identity, that will be entirely up to them. That is freedom of choice. There is nothing illiberal in the proposed measure.

My hon. Friend has referred to the role of Post Office Counters and the use of the cards. Will he confirm that the private finance initiative will extend and improve services? Will he consider the possibility of using the cards in sub-post offices?

Yes, my hon. Friend makes an important point. The cards will be used in sub-post offices. The private finance initiative will give us a system that, in many ways, will be far better than the present one, not least in combating fraud. The new system will provide the customer with immediate information and improvements in his or her benefit should that be required.