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Identity Cards

Volume 404: debated on Monday 28 April 2003

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If he will make a statement on plans to introduce identity cards. [109766]

We published a consultation paper on entitlement cards and identity fraud on 3 July 2002. We are at the moment making a detailed assessment of the 2,000 responses received to the consultation exercise, which ended on 31 July. Many organisations and individuals have expressed support for a card scheme, and that has been backed up by other research on the public's views, which we will publish alongside our response.

Does the Minister agree with what the assistant information commissioner, Jonathan Bamford, said about the idea of an ID card:

"Do we risk changing the fabric of our society so that the highest level of identification becomes the norm for the most mundane of services"?
Let us bear in mind that, when Labour was in opposition, it said that the cost of such a scheme—some £600 million—would be better spent on extra police officers.

No, I do not agree with those comments. It is interesting that the Information Commissioner himself has said that there are no insurmountable privacy or data protection obstacles in respect of such a scheme and has welcomed some of the Home Secretary's proposals about how legislation might be implemented if the Government decide to take that course of action.

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the main issues will be whether there are better things to do with the £2 billion or £3 billion cost of introducing ID cards? Will she give an undertaking that any estimates received from IT companies of the cost of introducing them will be treated with great scepticism in the light of previous such estimates?

In terms of the benefits of a particular scheme, my hon. Friend will make up his own mind on the basis of the consultation paper that we circulated and the discussions that have taken place. As I said, the 2,000 responses that we have received from individuals show that ordinary members of the public generally do not share his concerns. The responses have been about 2:1 in favour of introducing a scheme.

I also point out that the proposal does not involve investing large amounts of public money, although some up-front expenditure would certainly be involved. The cost of the scheme would be borne by individuals as they applied for cards, just as people will have to apply for passport and driving licence cards in the fulness of time, as those provisions are also coming on line and people will have to make a payment for them.

Does the Minister not realise that when Australia tried out the proposal to introduce an ID card, it was initially enormously popular, but only until people realised how much personal information Government officials would have access to? As a result, the proposal became the Australian equivalent of the poll tax and was dropped in the face of mass demonstrations and huge public hostility.

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman has read the consultation paper, but if he has, he will recall that what is being proposed is not a card that would hold large amounts of information. It would be a gateway providing a very secure identity access to other databases for the individual, but the particular databases to which the card might give access would obviously be determined through the process of legislation on which we would embark. It would not be able to add to those through any other mechanism, so Parliament would have its say.

A system of compulsory identity cards would be a very useful tool in dealing with the upsurge and recurrence of football hooliganism. What discussions have taken place between the Home Department and the English Football Association regarding the forthcoming match against Turkey in Istanbul? If the Football Association does not make any tickets available to English supporters, will the Government assist it in ensuring that supporters do not—

Reverting to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb), what is the difference between "access" and "gateway"?

I do not think that there is a particular difference in this context, except that providing access to a number of databases would, as I said, be determined by Parliament, so the extent to which the card became a gateway would be as limited or as extensive as Parliament determined.