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Identity Cards

Volume 699: debated on Monday 3 March 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

How many people they estimate will have been issued with identity cards by May 2010.

My Lords, the detailed plans for the rollout of identity cards have yet to be finalised, so it is not possible to give an estimation of the number of cards that will have been issued by 2010. However, I expect that updated plans will be published shortly.

My Lords, I thank the Minister most warmly for his reply. First, can he tell us how it came about that the records of 3 million driving licence applicants were shipped off to America and lost in the depths of Iowa, so what guarantee can he give that entries in the identity register will not end up in Timbuktu? Secondly, how will the issue of cards to non-European foreigners applying to stay here—law-abiding people who come forward voluntarily—help in the fight against illegal immigration, let alone terrorism; and yet am I not right that the issue of such cards to non-European foreigners is going to be almost first on the list?

My Lords, the noble Lord is right: it is our intention later this year to roll out the first tranche of identity cards for foreign nationals. We already have a rollout for the UK visas biometrics programme internationally which now covers three-quarters of the world’s population and operates in 135 countries. So far, that scheme has ensured that some 10,000 individuals have been matched to those who have been fingerprinted in the United Kingdom in connection with previous asylum applications. So it is already encouraging in its results in further enhancing the protection of our borders and in protecting us from illegal immigration. I am not aware of any plans to send data to Timbuktu or anywhere else. I am sure the noble Lord was being facetious.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, spoke of the “depths of Iowa”? As an honorary citizen of Iowa, I am horrified at such an expression. Iowa has nothing but joys.

My Lords, strange as it may seem, when the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, mentioned Iowa, the noble Lord, Lord Acton, came first to mind, and I knew that he would be incensed.

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House whether the computer systems for dealing with biometric ID cards are in place? If they are not, when will they be? Are the Government satisfied that they will be able to cope with the new biometric ID cards as they are rolled out?

My Lords, the computer system is not yet in place. We are in the early stages of the procurement process for that. We are making good progress in developing our plans for the introduction of ID cards. As I said earlier, we plan to introduce them for foreign nationals in the United Kingdom later this year. I suppose the question for me is: do the opposition parties still support the introduction of ID cards for foreign nationals? My sense is that they do not. I think they are making a big mistake in that because there is no doubt in my mind and the minds of their own national security and police advisers that ID cards will make a great contribution to ensuring that we can secure our borders and protect ourselves from illegal immigration.

My Lords, speaking for the Liberal Democrat Benches, I can assure the noble Lord that we think the money would be far better spent on proper measures to secure our borders and anti-terrorist intelligence work, apart from anything else. What is the latest cost estimate, first, for each individual who has to get a card; secondly, to the taxpayer for bringing in the whole scheme; and, lastly, for any business which has to implement it?

My Lords, the noble Baroness asks an important question. We have been very clear and up front—it is worth listening to the response—that roughly 70 per cent of the costs of introducing ID cards would be required in any event to ensure that the full secure biometric passports are introduced. So most of the costs are fully recovered. The remainder of the costs are recovered by the issuing of the identity cards. I know that some Conservative Members have the notion that somehow we could use the same £5.4 billion-worth of funding simply to enhance the security of our borders through the development of an extensive army of border security staff, but that is completely unrealistic. That money is already going to be spent on ensuring that we have a fully biometric passport system.

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House what is the current prospect for the Government signing up to Schengen information system mark 2?

My Lords, I was looking forward to a helpful observation. I will write to the noble Lord on that; I want to ensure that he has an accurate answer.

My Lords, as an Australian, do I qualify as a non-EU foreigner, although I have not been an asylum seeker? If so, will I be the first person in this House to get an identity card? Will I have an option, or will I be obliged to have it?

My Lords, I think the noble Baroness has just volunteered for the scheme. I wish her luck being first in the queue.

My Lords, has my noble friend seen the widespread predictions that the Conservatives will return to supporting identity cards when they perceive themselves to be near to power again? Should he and I not welcome this continued vehement opposition?

My Lords, the position of the Conservative Party on ID cards is interesting. Back in June 1994, I think it was the MP Harold Elletson who moved a Motion to introduce ID cards. The noble Lord, Lord Trimble, supported that Motion, as did the noble Lords, Lord Lamont and Lord Jopling. My research also shows me that three current shadow Secretaries of State in Mr Cameron’s shadow Cabinet and a number of other shadow Ministers supported the Motion, so it seems that the Conservative Party is deeply divided on this issue.

My Lords, if overseas immigrants are to get cards but the computer system is in the early stages of procurement, what is the use of the cards until the computer programme is up and running?

My Lords, noble Lords opposite have been in government and have also introduced highly sophisticated systems. The system will work to ensure that we protect our borders against terrorists and illegal immigrants and that we get people using services that are entirely proper for them to use in a fair sense.