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Identity Cards

Volume 712: debated on Tuesday 30 June 2009

Statement

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department (Alan Johnson) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am pleased to announce today the next steps in the implementation of the National Identity Service. This started with the introduction of identity cards for foreign nationals in November 2008 and will continue later this year with the introduction of the first identity cards for British citizens including the rollout of voluntary identity cards at a fee of £30 to people living in the Greater Manchester area.

There will be significant benefits to individuals from holding an identity card, which will become the most convenient, secure and affordable way of asserting identity in everyday life. Identity cards will also be valid for travel throughout Europe in place of a British passport.

I have reviewed the plans for introducing identity cards to the wider public and have decided to accelerate the rollout of cards by extending the initial coverage from Greater Manchester to other locations in the north-west early next year. Anyone resident first in Greater Manchester and then in the wider areas to be specified will be entitled to apply for an identity card. Initially this will be through Identity and Passport Service offices based in central Manchester and at Manchester airport.

Precise arrangements for the extension of the roll out are being developed, but will include the extension of identity card enrolment to other Identity and Passport Service offices in north-west England. There will be a particular focus on issuing identity cards at a fee of £30 to those who will most benefit, particularly young people.

The Government are committed to providing real help now to people in these difficult economic times. Those over 75 are particularly affected and as a consequence the Government will also be looking at options which could allow pensioners aged 75 and over to receive an identity card free of charge. These identity cards will assist in asserting identity and will enable travel throughout Europe.

The Government already have arrangements in hand for the production of identity cards. Later this year, and subject to the normal procurement processes, a further contract will be signed to cover production of cards for the medium term. We are currently engaged in negotiations to ensure the best value for money. We now have a much clearer view of our costs in the future as we have entered into 10-year contracts to upgrade the Identity and Passport Service's application and enrolment system and build and run the database that will support passports and identity cards.

At the same time, we will continue to look at ways of reducing costs across both passport and identity card work. A further cost report on the estimated costs of the identity cards scheme over the next 10 years will be made to Parliament in the autumn. However, the expectation is that the costs specifically relating to identity cards will be less than the 30 per cent of the total costs of the National Identity Scheme previously estimated.

However, holding an identity card should be a personal choice for British citizens—just as it is now to obtain a passport. Accordingly, I want the introduction of identity cards for all British citizens to be voluntary and I have therefore decided that identity cards issued to airside workers, planned initially at Manchester and London City airports later this year, should also be voluntary. I continue to believe that identity cards will help deliver enhanced security in the airside pass-issuing process at airports by making it easier and more certain to verify an individual’s identity. In consultation with the airport operators, we will be encouraging anyone applying for an airside pass to obtain an identity card. There will be significant benefits from a large proportion of airside pass holders having their identity verified and being issued with identity cards. We have listened to what the unions, airlines and others in the aviation sector have had to say about our plans and as a result we will now seek to achieve these results by inviting applications to be made on a voluntary basis.

The Government will, therefore, be withdrawing the Identity Cards Act 2006 (Designation) Order 2009 which was laid before Parliament on 6 May 2009. This would have made it a requirement for anyone applying for a criminal conviction certificate, as part of the process for obtaining an airside pass to access the restricted area at a specified airport, also to obtain an identity card.

The Government believe that effective identity assurance is the foundation stone of a good personnel security regime in airports and elsewhere and that is why we will be offering identity cards to those working airside in our airports from later this year.

In December 2007, Stephen Boys Smith was commissioned by the Transport Secretary to conduct an independent external review of personnel security arrangements in the UK transport industry. His key conclusion was that effective personnel security starts with identity and that identity cards would play a useful addition to identity assurance at airports and elsewhere in the transport industry. We continue to believe that this is correct and that identity cards will provide and help with enhanced security but we believe that compulsion would be counterproductive given the need to ensure the right environment for their introduction.

We believe the evaluation of identity cards for airside workers will demonstrate the benefits that identity cards can bring to the pre-employment and airside pass issuing processes at Manchester and London airports and that these benefits will encourage airside workers to apply for an identity card. We will continue to work with the aviation industry to agree the ongoing rollout of personal identity cards to airside workers, so these process improvements can also benefit others.

For foreign nationals (from outside the European Economic Area), compulsory identity cards will play an increasingly important part in the delivery of an effective immigration policy and for proving identity and entitlement to work. Therefore I have asked the UK Border Agency to look at how it can speed up the rollout of identity cards for foreign nationals including to foreign national airside workers.

A further five statutory instruments under the Identity Cards Act 2006 have also been laid before Parliament. These will now be brought before the House for approval. These will be required to allow for the start of the issue of identity cards on a voluntary basis in the autumn.

I am determined to ensure that there is proper oversight of the way the National Identity Service is introduced in order to build public trust. We will shortly be announcing the appointment of the independent Identity Commissioner. I will also be introducing a public panel, made up from people from different regions, to ensure that the views of the public are properly reflected and to help us develop an identity rights charter. All of this work will fit within our strategy for safeguarding identity across government.