My Lords, there are no current plans to substitute identity cards for bus passes for the over-60s. However, an identity card is a convenient proof of age, and could be used by holders to prove that they qualify for age-related services, such as when they apply for a bus pass.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that, in a recent interview, the Home Office Minister in the other place said that some local authorities and transport groups were interested in replacing bus passes with identity cards? To date, the Government have persuaded just 10,000 members of the public to have identity cards. Since the Government are obviously struggling with this policy, would the Minister say whether either the Home Office or the Department for Transport would be tempted to follow this suggestion of using ID cards for bus passes so that they could compulsorily increase the numbers for the over-60s?
The word “compulsory” is not in our lexicon when it comes to discussing identity cards. They are entirely voluntary. We are looking at and are in dialogue about a number of public and private sector partners who could increase the services offered. Those, of course, are services focusing on the requirement of citizens to prove identity. There are no plans at present to involve the bus pass in that.
I think that the noble Baroness is being a little bit selective with the statistics. Over 8,000 ID cards have been issued, over 10,000 people have enrolled, over 70,000 people have requested application packs; and this is on a rollout which is restricted to certain parts of the country. We intend that rollout to continue. The major endeavour will be in 2012 when we will have biometric passports, and people have a choice of a biometric passport, an ID card, or both—or neither.
Will the Minister ask his colleague in the Department for Transport what progress has been made on introducing smart cards instead of the present identity cards, so that the revenue which is spent on concessionary bus travel may be fairly divided among the authorities that are spending the money?
My noble friend is correct. The aim of the identity card and biometric passport is to make them unique. Therefore, the ability to have several British passports would be avoided because the biometric information will prevent that. The rollout continues, and I believe that biometric passports will prove to be both popular and very effective. If we have, as we hope to have in the next Parliament, the opportunity to amend the Identity Cards Act 2006, it will of course provide this ability in 2012 for people to have a passport, to have an ID card which is a passport for Europe anyway, or to have neither or both.
The Minister in answering the question used the phrase, “compulsion is not in our lexicon”. Given that in the Identity Cards Act 2006 there is a provision that, from 2011 onwards, ID cards can be made compulsory by law, is he now assuring the House that, should the Government be returned at the election, they have absolutely no intention of exercising that power?
I can offer that reassurance to the noble Lord. It was given in the other place as recently as this month. When we are re-elected in the coming general election, the Government have no intention in the next Parliament of legislating for compulsion in this area. We have a situation here whereby the opposition parties are promising, if elected, to scrap the ID card scheme, under the illusion that money will be saved. It will not. If ID cards are scrapped, the income that comes with ID cards is scrapped. It is an ill thought-through policy which will only take away choice from British people. It will cost more to cancel them than to maintain them.