My Lords, the Bill is short, and it is precise in achieving its aim of scrapping the identity card scheme and destroying the national identity register. Enactment of the Bill will meet the commitment set out in the coalition agreement and deliver the commitments made in both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat manifestos for the 2010 election. We very much welcome the opportunity for debate today and will consider the matters raised in this House together with the content of the legislative scrutiny report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. I have not yet seen the contents of the report but I understand that it supports the Government’s approach.
A number of your Lordships will recall consideration of the Identity Cards Act 2006 and the fact that our opposition to the introduction of the scheme was focused on preventing the state from intruding unnecessarily into the private lives of individuals and wasting taxpayers’ money. We have not moved from that view, or on the inadequacy of the implementation of the 2006 Act, which has served only to confirm why we were right. The ID card scheme has not delivered the promised benefits. It has been an unjustifiable burden on the taxpayer and very poorly received by the public, with only 15,000 cards in circulation, of which some 3,000 were issued free of charge by the previous Administration.
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness. Before we go any further, I must say that I am finding it very difficult to concentrate on what she is saying because of the conversations that are going on on the Back Bench. Could the Chief Whip, or the noble Lord who is a Whip, remind noble Lords that if they wish to have a conversation, the Companion suggests that they retreat to the Prince’s Chamber?
My Lords, I am sure that the House will take note of what has just been said.
Those are the exiguous outputs of the scheme and confirm our long-held concerns that the scheme was expensive, ill thought out and unlikely to find favour with the public. I will return to those aspects and to the issue of passport security later, but I will concentrate for a moment on our fundamental concerns, which lie in the gathering by the state of information that is neither proportionate nor necessary.
The setting up of the national identity register has meant gathering voluminous biographical and biometric personal data on the individual, on the sole criterion of having applied for an identity card. Under the 2006 Act, the individual is required by the state to notify any change in personal details—for instance, a home address—for the lifetime of the card. As things stand, any failure to do so within that period of 10 years could result in the cardholder paying up to £1,000. One has to ask what kind of big brother state that is.
The crux of our deep concern with the ID card scheme is that the purpose of gathering and retaining data was not clear either in the 2006 Act or in how the national identity register operated since its inception. There is the potential for the state to use gathered information for any purpose which it thinks fit. In effect, each cardholder has paid £30 to be photographed, fingerprinted, put on a database and tracked by the state for the following 10 years. Your Lordships may consider this an exaggerated view of the ID card scheme, but sadly it is the reality. We do not always agree with Liberty, but in this instance it is spot on. In its oral evidence in Committee in the other place, the director of Liberty said:
“One of our fundamental concerns about the national identity register was that it was a multi-purpose and non-purpose-specific database, which meant that by definition the amount of information on it would inevitably grow and by definition it was not necessary and proportionate to a particular cause”.
That view was echoed by Justice in the same Committee, and it reflects the importance of ensuring that databases are subject to openness, accountability and proportionality. In our view, the ID card scheme meets none of those key requirements. Instead we have a scheme with little or no purpose that allows the state to intrude into the life of the citizen. There was no attempt in the legislation to achieve the right balance between national security and public protection and the rights to safety and privacy of personal data. The ID cards legislation is a measure without equal in gathering large quantities of personal data from members of the public not suspected of any wrongdoing, which added insult to injury somewhat by requiring them to pay £30 for the privilege.
On cost, the previous Administration expended a total of £251 million. This went on projects to establish identity cards, passports with a second biometric feature and other related programmes. Prior to that, the Home Office spent an additional £41 million developing the policy, legislation and business case for the introduction of identity cards. Furthermore, it was estimated that a further £835 million would have to be spent on the national identity scheme by 2018. This is a huge waste at a time of financial stringency.
When promoting ID cards, the previous Government indicated that the existing and proposed spend was an investment and that the return from ID card sales would recoup taxpayers’ money, but the reality has been different; £251 million to issue 12,000 chargeable cards might be called reckless, which is why we have stopped all spending on the scheme and closed down the existing card-issuing operation, pending the outcome of parliamentary consideration of this Bill. We anticipate savings of £86 million over the next four years through cancellation.
Your Lordships will be aware from consideration of the Bill in the other place that there was a great deal of debate on the issuing of refunds or the provision of discounts or credits against future passport applications. The cost of providing refunds would be in the region of £400,000, which is not a trivial sum. We have come to the conclusion that it would not be right for the taxpayer to foot this bill and to add to the already excessive spending on the scheme.
We realise that some people who spent £30 for a card with a 10-year life expectancy will be disappointed that it will be cancelled later this year without any refund, but those who chose to buy a card did so in the full knowledge of the unambiguous statements by the coalition parties that the scheme would be scrapped if we came to office. They cannot now expect taxpayers to bail them out.
My Lords, is the Minister saying that it is a general principle that members of the public are meant to read through the manifestos of all the parties before making a decision, and that that decision is at risk if another party wins? That is an extraordinary argument.
My Lords, citizens have to be aware of what is going on around them. It was clear that this scheme would have a risky future ahead of it. I shall deal in a moment with one or two of the other points that were implicit in the noble Lord’s question.
Another idea that was advanced in Committee in the other place was to allow existing cards to remain valid until expiry. That would have required maintaining the infrastructure for the next 10 years or so—another problem. The cost of so doing would have been in the estimated region of between £60 million and £80 million, and we do not consider that spending at that level is justified.
My final point on refunds relates to the statutory basis for the issue of ID cards. There is no contract here; an identity card has been provided in the context of a statutory framework and is not available for the remedies that might be forthcoming where an agreement is governed by contract or consumer law.
The 2006 Act makes no provision for a refund policy, either in the case of early cancellation of the scheme or withdrawal of the card by the issuing authority, or by the individual who simply wishes to get out of the ID card scheme. There has been no provision in the law.
I am most grateful to my noble friend for giving way. Will she give sympathetic consideration to the possibility of refunding those who took out their ID cards before the manifestos were published? They seem to me to be innocent citizens, if I can put it that way, and I am sure that it would please a lot of people if it were possible to do that.
My Lords, the opposition of both coalition parties to ID cards was well known well before we incorporated that in our manifestos. This was not a surprise to the world. I am afraid that I cannot hold out any prospect of acceding to the noble Lord’s suggestion.
I turn to one other aspect of the 2006 Act that affects the integrity and security of the British passport. The UK passport is a highly secure and well respected document, both nationally and internationally, and it complies fully with international standards. The recent design changes announced on 5 October this year further enhanced the security of the document. It is essential that we ensure that there are sufficient powers available to help prevent and detect fraud. That is why we have proposed to retain the offences set out in the 2006 Act that deal with fraudulent access to, and use of, identity documents other than identity cards. They result in about 3,000 prosecutions each year for an offence with potentially very serious implications for both national security and, indeed, for crime prevention.
The second issue relates to the decision of the coalition Government to halt the introduction of the second biometric indicator in passports. The second biometric would of course have been fingerprints, in addition to the existing facial imaging. We do not believe that adding the second biometric indicator increases the security of the document, which is already at a very high level. By halting plans to introduce a second biometric, we are saving the taxpayer a further £134 million. Furthermore, we do not consider that the holding of a database of fingerprints of some 80 per cent of the British population—all those who make passport applications—is a proportionate response to the level of risk. National security and public protection are of paramount importance to the coalition Government, and we will not allow them to be compromised or endangered. We keep such issues under continuous review, but as things stand we do not consider that a second biometric is required to enhance the existing very high security levels of a British passport, or, indeed, to enhance its acceptance by border agencies around the world.
EU countries subject to the relevant provisions of Schengen will require their citizens to provide fingerprints, but we also know of other countries that will not be making this requirement. A country as border-conscious as the United States does not, nor do Canada, Australia and New Zealand. They have no current plans to use fingerprints in passports but are instead focusing, as we are, on the enhanced use of biographic and facial imaging based on identity authentication techniques: so we do not consider that a convincing case for having fingerprints in the passport has been made.
The Identity Documents Bill is about getting rid of an expensive and intrusive scheme that placed unnecessary and disproportionate requirements on the individual to provide information to the state. The Bill is a major step along the route of returning power to the citizen. At the same time, we have been careful to retain existing powers to tackle those who choose to commit, or attempt to commit, identity fraud. We have tabled a government amendment to Clause 10 in the other place to increase the safeguards for the individual in relation to the acquisition and retention of data in connection with passport applications. So while we add necessary precautions, the core function of the Bill is to remove from the statute book the costly, unsuccessful and invasive card scheme, to the benefit of the taxpayer and the freedom of the individual. On that basis, I am pleased to present the Bill for your Lordships’ consideration, and I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for outlining the Government’s Bill so clearly and concisely for us this afternoon. We are very grateful to her. It is perhaps slightly ironic that we should be debating the Bill at the start of National Identity Fraud Prevention Week. ID fraud is, as the noble Baroness will know, one of the UK’s fastest-growing crimes, with nearly 2 million people a year falling victim to it, costing the country some £2.7 billion.
While in government, my party, as the House knows, introduced a system of voluntary identity cards. The identity card scheme was envisaged as a convenient, secure and affordable way of asserting one’s identity in everyday life. The card was a tool of empowerment—a way to give citizens some ownership of and control over their data. The card was affordable to nearly everyone, far more affordable than a passport. It was about protecting your identity and accessing your services. Indeed, in introducing consultation on ID cards in 2002, the then Home Secretary, the right honourable David Blunkett, described these documents as “entitlement cards” which would ensure that those who have a right to use our public services are the only ones to do so. The ID card functioned as a valid travel document throughout Europe, a way to demonstrate eligibility to work, and a proof of age for young people or those without a driving licence. It also added some protection against identity fraud—a crime which, as I say, costs a great deal of money each year.
Yes, we believe that the ID cards enhanced security. Their existence made illegal immigration and trafficking that bit harder. The Police Federation of England and Wales has long supported the scheme. It said:
“The Police Federation has backed an identity card scheme for over a decade, not as a knee-jerk reaction to any one specific or emotive event, but following objective appraisal. Unfortunately, all too often the case for identity cards is not pushed hard enough for fear that their introduction would be seen as infringement of peoples’ civil liberties. However carrying identity cards brings benefits to us all. If an individual is stopped by the police, they would be able to confirm their identity instantly; the result of which is that they would not have to report to a police station—a lengthy process that would amount”,
so the Police Federation argued,
“to a far greater infringement of their liberty”.
In an age when security is paramount, ID cards can help to protect us all. The existence of the national identity register provided the security services with a verifiable and authenticable database to contribute to their role in safeguarding the public. It was in making the obtaining of multiple identities harder that we believe the ID card scheme offered an obstacle in the way of would-be terrorists. I pray in aid the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Lympne, who said in 2001:
“Britain is the easiest country in Western Europe in which criminals and terrorists can lose themselves. If we are serious about tackling this problem, there is one obvious remedy—identity cards”.
That is no doubt why, under his leadership, the party opposite—which now makes up the Government—voted in favour of the Labour Government’s first Bill on this matter in 2004, and why it supported it in the 2005 general election campaign.
Having said all that, I wish to make a concession, which has also been made in the other place. However much these Benches may have supported the introduction of ID cards, we cannot deny this Government’s mandate to abandon the measure now. It was one of the precious few proposals that appeared in both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat manifestos. Therefore, we absolutely recognise the right of the Government to pass this Bill. However, that is not to say that we do not think there are considerable problems with the Bill before the House today. I shall raise some concerns and my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath will raise others.
We believe that the 15,000-odd ID cards already in use should continue as a legitimate form of identity until their expiry date. We argue that it is unfair, because of a change in government policy, to penalise people who have spent money on these cards. In the other place, as justification for their refusal to compensate card holders, the Government repeatedly deployed the argument—which was used again by the noble Baroness this afternoon, slightly unconvincingly, if I may say so with great respect—that:
“People knew well before the election what would happen if a Conservative Government were elected”—[Official Report, Commons, 9/6/10; col. 346.]
Am I alone in thinking that that argument is shocking in its arrogance and deep unfairness? The Government demonstrate a mean-spiritedness on this issue in not attaching a money resolution to the Bill. As a result we will not be able to move an amendment to call for refunds for card holders. Such a refund would cost less than £400,000 to deliver. In the context of the wider costs of scrapping the scheme—the Government have claimed that it will cost £5 million this year to implement the Bill—that is a comparatively small amount.
Furthermore, in refusing to offer compensation the Government really are riding roughshod over consumer protection law. We on these Benches agree with comments made in the other place that the Government's attitude to the cancellation of the ID card scheme is symbolic of their lack of regard for ordinary taxpayers—many of those affected are elderly and some are not the richest in society—who in good faith have spent money on purchasing the card. Not to compensate them seems to us a pretty cold-hearted approach. We shall certainly bring this matter back in Committee.
If the Government will not offer card holders a refund, we suggest that a credit of £30 should be attached to card holders’ next purchase of a passport. It seems plain to us that existing cards should remain valid until they expire. We would be grateful to hear the noble Baroness’s view on this. If the Government are not open to this argument, we would like to know what they have to say to the often older and poorer members of the public who took up the opportunity to purchase an ID card under an Act of Parliament. They will be inconvenienced and out of pocket if the Bill is passed as it stands.
We have doubts about the need to destroy the data held on the national identity register. We are committed to the security of the British passport and consider that data held on the NIR, especially the biometric information, is valuable in achieving this end. As the noble Baroness said just now, the Government have announced that they are halting the second generation of biometric passports. However, in scrapping the data already held and the infrastructure which has built up around the national identity register, it seems that the Government’s real intention is to scrap proposed second generation passports altogether. We disagree with that approach, which risks leaving Britain out of step not only with the rest of Europe but with other countries as well.
The Prime Minister himself has previously argued that there is clearly a need for biometrics on passports. I remind the House that following the British-Israel row over the use of fake British passports in the killing of Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai, the right honourable William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, acknowledged the value of biometrics. Biometric passports and the register represent important contributions to the integrity of the UK's system of identity. The Bill will undermine this. With the permission of the individuals involved, data on the NIR should be transferred to the Identity and Passport Service.
There are other arguments. We are concerned that the scrapping of the scheme will not allow us to learn from the experience of issuing cards to airside workers at UK airports. There are potential lessons in enhanced security which could have been applied to other areas, but now we will never know.
There are equality concerns. The ID card was the only form of identity proof that could be issued to transgendered people in both their birth gender and acquired gender, thereby making it much easier for them to prove their identity without fear or embarrassment. Transgendered people were not included in the Bill’s equality impact assessment, and there has been no consultation whatever.
As Liberty said in a press statement on 27 May 2010 and in its contribution to this debate, it is inequitable to maintain ID cards for foreign nationals while scrapping those for everyone else, as the Bill will do. We also have arguments with the Government about the costs involved. My noble friend will address that issue.
Before I conclude I remind the noble Baroness that, in a former life, not long before she came to prominence on the opposition Benches, and now on the government Benches, she said something which I suspect she thought she might be reminded of during the course of this debate:
“If you’re not going to have ID cards you have to find other ways of protecting identity and I don’t know how you do”.
Why has the noble Baroness changed her mind?
My Lords, shortly before the general election I was asked at a meeting what would be the first new Bill that I would introduce if I had the opportunity to do so. I said that we had far too much legislation already and that I would be looking at making repeals before I would look at introducing new laws. I was on a panel with a Member of Parliament who had been a Home Secretary and he agreed with that analysis. The Identity Cards Act 2006 was not in the “unnecessary” column; it was in the column marked “plain wrong”. I am therefore delighted to welcome this Bill and to note the significance of the fact that the upholding of civil liberties and the right to privacy are being given parliamentary time so early in this Parliament.
Even those who were initially attracted by the, “I’ve done nothing wrong, so I have nothing to fear” argument were, in increasing numbers, losing faith in the effectiveness of ID cards. The events of 9/11 and the Madrid train bombings answered the assertion that ID cards would help in dealing with terrorism. As for organised crime, identity fraud—which the noble Lord, Lord Bach, mentioned—is committed mostly online, where identity cards are irrelevant. As for the potential convenience for young people in proving their age, all I can say is, “some nut, some sledgehammer”.
Then, of course, we have heard about the cost. The waste of money is a scandal. The noble Lord, Lord Bach, has mentioned refunds. I agree that there is an issue regarding the payments made by individuals. However, it is completely disproportionate to suggest that the charges that have been paid by individuals are a greater issue than the cost of the scheme so far, and its potential cost were it to be retained.
I could have spent 15 minutes reading into the record the quotes that I found in a very quick internet search. Instead, I will share a couple. These expressions of concern by citizens—I use the term deliberately—very effectively make the point. The first is:
“Why should I have to validate my very existence by signing up for this National Identity Register/ID cards? The potential of this data to be abused/lost/stolen is almost a certainty never mind the fact you have to pay for the privilege. It’s crazy that law-abiding people will be punished for not having one or not keeping their details up to date and it provides no extra benefit whatsoever. Saying it will counteract terrorism is an absolute delusion too”.
The second comment that I will share is as follows:
“ID cards will do nothing effective to reduce terrorism or crime, indeed criminal and terrorist organisations with the resources will probably find ways around them anyway. These cards do however extend the control and interference of the state by another step. This government in particular is investing heavily in building a very good infrastructure for oppression. I will not sign up for these cards, nor carry one. The scheme should be scrapped without compensation to the organisations involved and any money saved moved into worthwhile parts of the budget, perhaps even to help reduce the causes of crime by improving education and youth services”.
Those comments go to the heart of the matter. I do not need to spell out the concerns that we all have about the vulnerability of the personal data to which they refer. I look forward to debating in Committee amendments to explore points from the Joint Committee on Human Rights about the offences that are being re-enacted, and about information sharing in connection with the issue of passports. The JCHR picked up, among other things, on comments made by the Information Commissioner’s Office. I will quote from the Hansard report of the written evidence given to the Public Bill Committee:
“There should be no room for ambiguity over the information which will be destroyed”.
That is a matter that we will come back to.
Mention has already been made of biometric immigration documents, and the need for better language than the divisive “ID cards for foreign nationals”. I appreciate that residence permits are required for a fair system of border control. I hope that the Minister will comment either now or when we come to these points in Committee, as I am sure we will, on who has access to personal information held by the National Biometric Identity Service; how long the information will be retained; whether it will be retained after the individual has left the UK, and if so, why; and whether the UK goes further than is required by European law.
I look forward to passing the Bill after the proper scrutiny to which I have referred, and to the further protection of civil liberties that will no doubt be coming to us—to rebalancing, if I may use a good new Labour term. We can still learn lessons. The noble Lord, Lord Bach, said that it was a shame that we were scrapping the schemes because there were lessons to be learned. I hope that we can learn them in any event.
The ID register is an authoritarian strand of government that I deplore. I see no justification for the scheme other than that “it was invented here, but here is now there”. I do not want to be unnecessarily divisive, because all of us who value our liberties and who rely on a common-sense approach to good government should welcome the Bill—and I believe that they do, because I recognise that those views are held on all sides of the House.
My Lords, as one of many who frequently expressed extreme unhappiness about the Identity Cards Bill as it passed through all its stages in your Lordships’ House, I was delighted to hear the announcement by the Government that most of its provisions would be repealed. I am even more delighted that the Identity Documents Bill has reached this stage so soon.
It was not just identity cards that presented a problem; of much more concern to me and others was the national identity register. As Liberty always maintained, these were a costly and completely unnecessary intrusion into our personal lives. Several noble Lords warned about the complexity of implementing such a scheme, the details of which were left to secondary legislation. All went unheeded by the previous Labour Government as, relentlessly, they ploughed on in their determination to get ID cards and the register into law. Now it seems that at least some members of the Labour Party have changed their view, for the new leader of the Opposition and another leadership candidate declared that they, too, are strongly against ID cards.
The cost and intrusive nature of ID cards and the register were not the only objectionable aspects of the Identity Cards Act 2006. Time and again, the previous Government were warned about the lack of security of the database and the detrimental impact on race relations. Of primary concern was the fundamental shift in the relationship between the state and the individual that would have occurred had the legislation been brought into effect.
I was fortunate to have worked with the Earl of Northesk. The breadth and depth of his knowledge about the functioning of computer databases were without parallel in your Lordships’ House and I am sure that his expertise will be sorely missed. He consistently warned that no database could be totally secure and that one as large and unwieldy as the national identity register was sure to be attacked. Recent warnings of cyberterrorism appear to endorse his belief.
I am probably not the only noble Lord to have received a briefing paper from the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, which expressed its concerns about the likelihood that racial discrimination would have been exacerbated by the Act. I was reminded of an occasion in the late 1950s when I worked in the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance in Birmingham. In those days, a national insurance card to which stamps were attached was issued to each working person. This would show the contribution year, the gender of the person and the class of stamp. Additionally, as the colour of the card changed each year, the colour was written in words below the gender. I vividly remember chaos breaking out at the counter when an Irishman demanded that his card be changed for one of a different colour. It transpired that he had not understood that the separate words “orange” and “man” did not indicate that he was an Orangeman. It took quite a while to calm and reassure him, for clearly he felt that both his privacy and his religious affiliations had been affronted. This is an indication of the sensitivities that must be considered when enacting measures such as this.
The exorbitant cost of setting up and maintaining the register has never been justified, but that issue has already been thoroughly aired, so I will not labour the point.
Article 8 under the Human Rights Act relates to the citizen’s right to privacy. The Minister will be aware that there is still a great deal of unrest about possible infringement of this right by the UK Borders Act 2007. Both Liberty and the Northern Ireland commission have expressed their concerns that the gold-plating of that Act goes beyond the requirements of EU regulation. Does the Minister share those concerns or does she hold that the documents required are a requirement of EU law? If the latter, will she please tell the House which powers, purposes and sanctions under Sections 5 to 15 of the UK Borders Act 2007 are over and above the requirements of EU law?
Sections 25, 26 and 38 of the Identity Cards Act 2006 are to be retained in Clauses 4 to 10 of this Bill. As a former long-serving member of the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal, I am well aware of the number of false documents that are encountered in this jurisdiction. Clause 6 lists documents whose possession is an offence, but there is no definition of “reasonable excuse”. Will the Minister define that phrase, please? I also take this opportunity to make a plea for the consolidation of all the law that relates to immigration, asylum and border control. There has been such a welter of primary and secondary legislation in this field over the past two decades that I am amazed that anyone can ever get a full grasp of the subject. There really is a need to rationalise the law, to simplify the requirements for the identity of non-EU nationals and to bring the law into line with European law.
I look forward to the further stages of this Bill in your Lordships’ House and wish it a fair wind.
My Lords, it would appear that I may be the only Back-Bencher to oppose this legislation. I spoke during the Second Reading debate on the main Bill and I said then that it was necessary. I also said that the one mistake I thought was being made by the Government of the day was that they were not making such ID requirements immediately compulsory for all British citizens.
I think that this Bill is a backward step because we are in the middle of a major technological revolution that is transforming the country we live in and the way in which we carry out a whole variety of different functions, such as the way in which we access our services and the health service. Eventually it will transform the way in which we vote and do business over the internet, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, suggested. Yet, at the same time as this revolution is taking place, here we are going backwards and taking away biometric identification cards, which would allow people to access a whole range of services in different ways—something that they cannot do at present but would be able to do in the future.
However, the point is that all of us will be able to do that. The Minister introducing the Bill has an ID card hanging round her neck, as do I. We all have to have an ID card to be Members of this House: we have to produce some form of identity to get into the building. Even visitors who come into this House now have to have their photographs taken to ensure that we know who they are when they walk round and to ensure that they cannot switch identification with someone else. I have a wallet full of cards which give me various rights of access. The noble Baroness in front of me, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, is busily saying that, “It’s not this and it’s not that”. Does she want the drive to move forward with ID cards to rely entirely on the market, which is what will happen?
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, rightly said that most identity fraud takes place on the internet. That may very well be true. At some point the banks and the people who provide services on the internet are going to wake up to the fact that that fraud costs £2.8 billion and they are going to ask you to put some form of ID card into your computer to ensure that you are the person doing the deal. My noble friends are saying that some do that already. Therefore, the market will drive this forward. There will be a whole series of means by which we produce ID in order to get the services that we want but, if the push for that is market-driven—which is my major objection to what this Government are doing—that will increase the technological divide and wealth divide between those who have access to ID cards and those who do not. Perhaps it is taking a hammer to crack a nut, or whatever expression the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, used, but those who do not have such access are the young, the deprived, the poor and the people who are stopped by the police on our streets who cannot prove who they are. These are the people who need ID cards. These are the people whom we want to have some form of identity so that they can say, “This is who I am; I can prove it. If you want to put my ID card into a machine, it will prove who I am through the biometric system”. If we do not have some form of identity cards, we will find that the technological gap between the young and the deprived people who live in poor areas of our country and the rest of us will grow and we will live in an even more divided society. That is what this coalition Government are about, so perhaps I should not be very surprised by it. However, I certainly oppose the Bill and, to some extent, I regret that the opposition Benches are not opposing it more thoroughly, as they should be doing.
My Lords, I admire the noble Lord, Lord Maxton, for sticking to the old guns, as you might say. It may be worth while in this Second Reading debate reviewing where we have come from because I am afraid that the noble Lord, Lord Bach, was not accurate in what he said. The principal issue that exercised this House back in 2005-06, to such an extraordinary degree that we threw that Bill back to the Commons three times, was the issue of compulsion. It is wrong of the noble Lord, Lord Bach, to start his speech by saying that the previous Government introduced a Bill for a voluntary card. Indeed they did according to their manifesto, but when the Bill came out it was compulsory. That is the rock upon which the opposition in this House was built and that opposition then grew across all Benches. It is as well to remember that.
I pay tribute to Mr Willcock. I do not suppose that many in the Chamber remember dear old Mr Willcock who, when asked by a policeman in 1952, refused to produce his identity card. He said, “I am not going to produce my identity card. The identity card was to stop the Germans, not to help you on some piffling nonsense”. The High Court upheld the good gentleman’s refusal and the identity card legislation was swiftly repealed. The point of that was to show that identity cards tend to have what you might call usage creep. The state cannot resist the opportunity to use the card for more and more things in more and more situations.
Again, one aspect of the Bill of 2005 that this House objected to profoundly was the right of the Secretary of State to add to the circumstances in which the identity card could be used and, in particular, to add to the category of information that could be on the national identity register. Let us not forget that the national identity register was to be unique in the world in terms of the amount of information that it would collect on each citizen. Microsoft licked its lips and referred to the register as the great honey-pot because it was to be the greatest source of information on earth.
The noble Lord, Lord Maxton, objects to what we are doing now because of the commercialisation that he says afflicts disadvantaged youths who want to establish their identity. I would be totally sympathetic to that if I felt that he was correct. However, he omits to remember not only that the ID cards that the Bill will abolish would have been compulsory if this House had not intervened three times but—this could never have been taken away—the huge cost of the scheme, which the LSE working group established would be more than £20 billion over the first 10 years and which was to be recouped by selling the ID cards to the great retailing outlets. These would have readers which, if you spent more than £15 at XYZ store, would read the purchase into the national identity register. Every time that happened, the store would have paid a small sum of money, and—how many of us remember this?—the national identity register would have recorded every occasion on which the card was used. The noble Lord, Lord Maxton, looks quizzical, but I assure him that that is so. That is why people objected to the sort of information build-up to which the card would lead.
It is a bit much to ask me to refer to a point of detail in the Act. I shall tell the noble Lord afterwards, but he need only read Hansard. I assure him that the Government did not deny that they would pay for a substantial part of the cost by commercial use and that every use of the card would register on the NIR. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Maxton, will agree with that.
Let me quickly pay tribute to NO2ID and Liberty for the huge help that they gave this House in respect of that Bill. I also repeat what the noble Countess said about Lord Northesk, whom we all miss and who was of great use to the House in the course of the passage of that Bill, as was the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, who is not in her place now.
To come to the Bill, those of us who fought and fought the previous Bill welcome this one with huge enthusiasm. I believe that the Identity Cards Act 2006 would have affected fundamentally the relationship between the citizen and the state. It is as well to think of “citizen” rather than “subject”, because in some respects that Act would have had a deleterious effect on that vital relationship. However, I say to my noble friend, who confirmed in opening the debate that there will be no repayment of the £30, that I think that that is a serious mistake. It seems unfair to say that people should have kept an eye on what we do in this House and should have carried in their heads the fact that the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative Party had made clear statements in the course of that Bill’s passage that they would repeal it if they came to power. Simple fairness should lead Government to repay those sums of £30—whether to old women or to rich hedge fund managers, I do not mind. It is not fair to abolish ID cards and not to repay that money. It is a modest sum in relation to the total costs already incurred.
I am sad that the Bill is as complex as it is. I do not know how many noble Lords have tried to read through the Bill, but it is a nightmare, even for an old lawyer like me. In Committee, I shall table a lot of amendments to attempt to make its provisions clearer. I draw attention to just a couple of clauses. In Clause 4, “Possession of false identity documents etc with improper intention”, the definition of improper intention in the second subsection does not say whether it is exhaustive. In addition, the reference to “false identity documents” is not true to the clause because it covers situations in which the documents are not false. The language of the clause is also extremely complex; I hope that we will be able to simplify it as we go along. Clause 6(1)(a) provides for an offence of possessing without reasonable excuse,
“an identity document that is false”.
That does not seem to be reconcilable with an almost exactly parallel offence in Clause 4(2)(a). I hope that that is not too detailed a point for a Second Reading debate.
Clause 10 desperately needs rewording, because it allows the Secretary of State to require various authorities to provide him or her with what is called “verifying information”. At the end, there is a nasty little subsection that states that the Secretary of State may specify by order,
“any other person … for the purposes of this section”.
That could take us right into the realms of private businesses, and we will need to look at that.
I welcome the Bill with great enthusiasm, as have my noble friend Lady Hamwee and others. I would like to think that, by the time it leaves us, the Bill will be really fit for purpose as well as fit in intent.
My Lords, I am very pleased to follow the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. I congratulate him on his exposition of what happened when this House discussed the Identity Cards Bill and improved it to the extent that it was rather better than it would have been had this House not been involved. Believe me, it would have been a very much worse Bill had this House not given it a lot of attention.
Being brought up in the Labour Party, I had always believed that identity cards were the tools of dictatorships and that the Labour Party, being in favour of individual freedom, was not in favour of such instruments that were used by dictators. I was very disappointed that such a Bill should have been introduced by the Labour Party and I am very disappointed now that it is opposing this Bill to repeal the bad Bill it introduced during 2005-06.
I am very happy to congratulate the coalition on bringing forward so quickly this Bill to repeal the Identity Cards Act. I have looked at many manifestos from both parties in my time and I had got rather cynical about them. I had thought that the coalition was against the Identity Cards Act and I had no doubt that it would be under great pressure from all sorts of interests, such as the security services, the police and the Home Department, not to repeal the Act. It deserves congratulation on being able to stand up to such pressure and, within five months, to bring forward the Bill and to take it through the House of Commons to this House almost unscathed. I therefore straightaway say that I support the Bill.
There is little to criticise in the Bill, although I have heard what the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, has said about certain aspects of it. No doubt we will come to these matters in Committee. I also hope, like him and others, that the Government will rethink their position on refunding the money to the 15,000 people who were inveigled—if I may use that word—into buying identity cards. It would cost a few hundred thousand pounds to do that, but the noble Baroness has said that we would save £800 million. Perhaps, under those circumstances, the Government will think about this. In any event, I have no doubt that there will be amendments on this matter in Committee. What supervision will there be to ensure that information contained in the National Identity Register is destroyed? It is important that the public, as well as Parliament, are given absolute assurances that the information already held is destroyed.
I understand the position of the noble Lord, Lord Maxton, which has always been his position as I understand it, but I do not understand the position that the Labour Party is adopting now. During his campaign for the leadership, the leader of the Labour Party, Mr Ed Miliband, said that it was a mistake to bring forward the identity card system and the identity register. I cannot understand why the Labour Party is not taking this opportunity to say to the House and to the country, “We were wrong and we support the Government’s Bill to put that wrong right”. I wish it would think about that between now and our further discussions on the Bill.
The Government have made a good start in this Bill to abolish ID cards and the national identity register, but there is much more to do in order to rid ourselves of many of the restraints on individual freedom and restrictions on free speech that have built up over the past few years. It is intolerable that people should be arrested, detained and questioned by the police on the say-so of some third party if they say something out of place to a friend or to someone else—even if the remarks are not relevant to that third party.
Even worse is the risk people run of losing their employment if they dare to criticise public policies or administration. I mention the recent case of a teacher, Miss Birbalsingh, who made a speech at the Tory Party conference properly criticising aspects of education. This should be a wake-up call to all of us, including all the political parties. It appears that when Miss Birbalsingh returned to her school, she was sent home like a naughty little girl and, as I understand it, has now lost her job. We have reached an awful pass when employees can be sacked for bringing legitimate concerns to the attention of the public. I hope that the freedom Bill will contain measures to ensure that this sort of thing does not and will not happen again. The Tory Party in particular, bearing in mind the eloquent speech made by Miss Birbalsingh, really should do something about it.
Finally, I join the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, in thanking the people in Liberty and NO2ID who have been tireless in their effort to keep the issue of ID cards and the national register before the public and have campaigned for the Identity Cards Act to be repealed. It is interesting to note that during the period that these groups have been active, support for ID cards has gone down and down. They used their own money and it is by their efforts that we are now in the last stages of repealing this iniquitous Act. That is a tribute to them and an indication that ordinary people working together in concert can still help to achieve great reform in this country.
My Lords, I am honoured to follow my noble friend Lord Stoddart of Swindon. I apologise to him again, because the last time this issue was raised, I called him “Lord Swinton” by mistake. Along with my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury, we have all spoken on identity cards enough to bore the pants off a wild boar.
This is a difficult subject for me because I have always had a crisis of identity. I do not oppose the Bill, but it is not past perfect, perfect or even future perfect. That is because the first thing you need for identity is a name, and as the prayer book says, “What are your name or names? Nomen or nomine”. For those of your Lordships who have heard me bang on about this before, the question is this: ask yourself what is your name, and then ask what is your full name, and then ask what is your legal name. Of course, as noble Lords know, you do not have a legal name because you have the right to call yourself what you like. Some of us have suffered from being put into your Lordships’ House at an early stage. I found that instead of being Malcolm Mitchell-Thomson, I became the right honourable Sir Malcolm McEacharn Mitchell-Thomson, Baronet of Polmood in the County of Peebles and Baron Selsdon in the County of Croydon.
In my travels over the years—and I have travelled much—this has led to me sometimes being registered by the first two words in my passport or birth certificate when I have tried to prove who I am. Those words may be “the right”. In the continent of Europe you take the surname or last name first and then the Christian name, so I have been Monsieur or Herr “right the”. As your Lordships know, “The” is a well-known Vietnamese Christian name. At the other end of the scale, when I have been “of Croydon”, I have been called Monsieur “Croydon of”, and “Of” is a Norwegian Christian name. I would like to be called “Malcolm Selsdon”, but this is denied to me.
If we are to have an identity card or passport, the first thing we need to do is determine the full name of the holder. In an attempt to prove myself wrong again, I asked the Whips Office if it would give me the Christian names of all Members of your Lordships’ House. I then searched through these names, only to find that many of your Lordships are called by a name that is not either one forename or another. So how do you prove who you are? And, having proven who you are, how do you use that information for your benefit?
The British passport has a reference number containing 24 figures and four letters—it is perfect—which is scanned in when you go to an airport. However, it is big, and if you try to carry it with you when you go swimming you find that you have got a problem. Over time, I have taken a copy of my passport. Is it illegal to take a copy of your passport? I am not sure that it is, but it is photo voltaic. It also has a photograph of me because, if I wish to identify myself to someone, I need to have a photograph. Almost everyone these days requires proof of identity.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Maxton, that I do not carry a pass of the House of Lords because, when I came here, I was told that I should certainly know everyone who had come here before me, their name and their face, and that the best form of security is recognition. Then, in order to get to know the security people, I was given the numbers they had on their shoulders and I learned their names so that when I went by them very quickly everyone would recognise me.
My problem is that I lose passes regularly. On my bus pass I am called Lord McEacharn, which is one of my middle names, and on something else I am Monsieur Croydon of, but I would like to have my own name and my own photograph on every card that I have. For example, I would like to have them on my bank card so that no one can steal it. I would like that freedom and that right.
Having studied the European legislation on data protection, I went to each of the countries where I worked and asked, “Will you accept this miniature of my passport as proof of identity?”. I had had it put in plastic—but not in a shop; I did it at home so that I was not breaking the law—and it is the same size as almost any European identity card; it is also waterproof. I have a miniature as well, but I am probably breaking the law. That copy has saved me on many occasions when I have lost a passport. I admit that I have two passports because of the places I go to.
So, first, can the Government give a definition of what is a name? This is particularly important because if you do not start with a name you get into trouble. If you are Lord Hunt of Kings Heath and have the name Philip, the question then is whether there is one or two “ls” in Philip. If you have got a hyphen in the middle, which many of the machines cannot pick up, you get into trouble because there is a space which is filled in with a back slash, an underlining or something else. My wish, first and foremost, is to get a definition of the name. Everyone should then register their name and it should become a legal name. So, first, let us legalise names.
Occasionally you get into trouble when you arrive somewhere and find that your baggage has been stolen and you have nothing but what you stand up in. It happened to me in Rome. I said, “Please let me through. I have got to go to”—forgive me—“a Christian Democrat Party meeting”. I was asked “Do you have any proof of identity?”. I suddenly realised that I was wearing one of my father’s old suits—from the days when he could afford to have one made—and that it had written in it “Lord Selsdon”. So I took it off and gave it to the man. He went off and there was a lot of discussion. He then came back and said, “Your jacket has gone through. Can we now have the trousers?” The point that I am light-heartedly making is that I of course support getting rid of the previous Act, but I do not support the way in which the present Bill is structured. Please can somebody get round to explaining how one’s name is defined and may we in the United Kingdom end up with a right to a legal name?
My Lords, I am not sure that I can help either of the previous speakers, but I would give one word of advice to the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon. In seeking the identity of Members of the House, it might be more profitable if he were to ask for given names and not just Christian names.
As has already been accepted by our Front Bench, the manifesto commitments on this issue of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties give them the authority to seek repeal of the previous legislation. I am fascinated by the speed with which it has been dealt; it could be because, so far as I can see, it is about the only item that appears in both manifestos.
In the debate on the gracious Speech, the Minister said:
“This Government have a strap line: freedom, fairness and responsibility. These themes run through the Government’s programme”.—[Official Report, 27/5/10; col. 240.]
I should like to test the question raised by the noble Lords, Lord Phillips of Sudbury and Lord Stoddart; namely, is it reasonable, free and fair now to say to people that the ID cards which they have voluntarily acquired and which have been legally provided are now to be abolished without compensation in any form and without continuing to provide the freedom of travel across Europe that was part of the reason that they bought the card in the first place? If it were a major issue of expense, one might say that, in these straitened times, it could not be afforded.
The impact assessment looks at the number of options available. The one which I find most attractive is Option 5, the mandatory return of cards with return of fees. It states that this would be of particular advantage because:
“Under this option, current cardholders would be entitled to reclaim the £30 cost of the ID card by returning it to IPS. The benefits of this over Option 1 include … Reputational benefits for the government, in dealing with people who purchased a now-useless card in good faith”.
Are we saying that the Government’s reputation is not worth, at maximum, £400,000, which would be the cost if everybody sought a refund? The impact assessment points to reduced enforcement costs as compared with other options. It also states that,
“the administrative costs incurred in dealing with claims over and above those incurred in collecting the cards in any case will be negligible, but reductions in risk relating to outstanding cards will also be negligible”.
That adds up to a powerful case for consideration of amendments in Committee, particularly when one takes account of the fact that we are expending some £82 million on a referendum on AV and something like £50 million plus on a proposal, if it becomes law, to elect police commissioners.
So I argue that the Government’s position in respect of refunds is not an issue of freedom—it is denying freedom. The agreements were entered into voluntarily. It has been argued that it was not a contract; I am not sure that that was how people who bought the cards would have seen it. Is it reasonable and, most of all, is it responsible?
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, quoted letters from a couple of people who were unhappy about the ID cards. Both of them talked about compulsion—if I recall them correctly—but the ID card was voluntary. I shall quote from a letter that I received from a couple in July—I am quite happy to provide the Minister with a copy. It states:
“I would like our comments to be taken into account by the committee regarding the use of this card as a TRAVEL DOCUMENT in Europe. We can no longer travel long distances this card is fantastic to use. Convenient to carry and most of all welcomed by customs officers wherever we have travelled. Now we have a travel document for Europe at a reasonable cost why should we have to pay over £70 for a worldwide passport when we cannot travel worldwide? All governments spout about value for money, but when it comes to the citizens of our own Country we are denied value for money ... The country may be in a financial mess, but we bought these cards on the understanding they lasted for 10 years. One of our laws (The Sale of Goods Act) states they need be fit for purpose and be suitable for the life span intended”.
That is a very reasonable case made for why the whole of that group of people should get at least a refund. A more prosaic description says:
“The Coalition Government states 100 days to abolition. At least Dick Turpin wore a mask when he stole money off his victims”.
So there is not a population seething on the streets and waving flags to congratulate the Government on removing ID cards; there are mixed opinions.
I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, speaking from the Cross Benches, because I do not believe that at any stage public support for voluntary ID cards was ever less than a majority of those being polled. That was the case through the piece—and compulsory ID cards got a larger support than that. However, that is not the issue. I see no point in rerunning the Second Reading debate on a previous piece of legislation. I suspect that our memories are all faulty on this occasion. When I spoke earlier about the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, I was referring to what, as the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, said, was the outcome of debate in this House and to what became the law, based on assurances given by the Government—I gave them from the Front Bench together with the noble Lord, Lord West—which limited very severely the kind of use to which the voluntary ID card could be put. Therefore, I rest my case on what I asked at the beginning: is it reasonable, free and fair for the Government now to refuse either to refund or to give credit against the cost of a full passport? It may be that the majority of people have full passports, but some have nothing more than the ID card and will now have to go out and buy a passport without even getting the credit for the £30 that they have already spent against the passport that they have to buy.
I hope that the views expressed by myself and from the Liberal Democrat Benches and Cross Benches will have support, because otherwise I think that this is a mean Bill, whatever the justification for the repeal in the first place.
I apologise if the noble Lord misunderstood when I said “Christian”. I was referring to people who have been christened. He may want to have a debate later about the Baha’is and Patels and all the other people who have given names, which all appear in different orders. That was the point that I was trying to make.
My Lords, this Bill is a most welcome step by the Government. Many people have argued for many years that the introduction of ID cards and the national identity register was flawed on political, technical and financial grounds and would do very little to prevent terrorism, crime or fraud. As we have heard, a national identity register database could actually increase the risk of fraud and terrorism.
At its heart, the ID card and database proposals would, if proceeded with, change irrevocably the relationship of the state with the individual. It is one thing to have some form of personal identification during wartime, as we did 70 years ago, and quite another to create a massive national identity database for which identity cards themselves are simply a means to an end and not an end in themselves. Every swipe of the card could be recorded, as my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury pointed out.
Why did the previous Government want such a database? Why did the obvious flaws not stop them? Why was the attack on individual civil liberties not seen as an issue? Why did the cost not seem to matter, given the serious structural weaknesses of the national identity register, which would have devoured far more money than the Government suggested? This Bill will stop the trend to a society in which private information becomes available on big databases that are accessible to large numbers of people, the vast majority of whom have no need of the information to which they would get access.
Never, since 2002, when the proposal for identity cards and the national identity register was first discussed, have I understood the justification for it. I cannot recall any reasoned, logical analysis of the need for it; that is because the proposal was never properly thought through. The official rationale seemed to be that the cards and the register would help in the fight against terrorism, but when terrorists are UK nationals entitled to an ID card or when they hold valid identification, as in the Madrid bombings, the case does not stand up to scrutiny.
Another ostensible reason was the need to prevent identity fraud, except that that is much more likely if you place lots of personal data in one place on one big database. Proponents of ID cards began to change the emphasis of the grounds of their arguments as the arguments were so convincingly won by those opposed, so we were told that there would be a convenience factor for young people when going to a pub or buying alcohol. As Liberty has pointed out, however, it is a very weak argument that we should construct a massive state database containing billions of biometric and other data, at a cost of several billion pounds, so that people can secure entry to a pub. Then we had the suggestion that ID cards might replace the concessionary bus pass for pensioners. Just imagine it: a multibillion pound scheme for identity cards being used to produce bus tickets.
The whole sorry exercise would have cost around £5 billion, at least—and that for a project that began life as a solution to a set of problems that were never clearly defined. Once the reasons were examined, they were found to be wanting and it became a project in search of a customer for, despite the fact that the Act has been on the statute book for over four years, only 15,000 ID cards have ever been produced. Of those 15,000, meanwhile, 3,000 were given free to airside workers. It now costs £5 million a year to run the current scheme, which is a cost of £400 per head each year. One is left with the impression that the previous Government, having finally grasped the nature of the flawed system they were creating, decided to head for the long grass under the guise of a slow start.
I am still left wondering why the previous Government believed so strongly in the value of big databases in which costs were rarely controlled and the security of data was so often not guaranteed. There are two kinds of scrutiny: first, who has access to what information; and, secondly, how secure it is from hacking or loss. As we know, there have been many major lapses in big government IT projects in recent years, and it seems pretty clear that the bigger the database, the higher the number of people who will need to access it and the weaker the security will inevitably be as a consequence. We should take note of some research undertaken by the Centre for Technology Policy Research at the London School of Economics, which tells us that,
“Despite a spend of as much as £21bn”,
“on public sector IT, it is difficult to find any compelling examples of direct productivity gains and improved public services”.
This is not just about waste on ID cards, but much more—not least the NHS database.
This Bill will stop the waste on ID cards and the national identity register, and stop the substantial erosion of civil liberties that was promoted by the previous Government. It is part of a broader rejection of intrusion by the state into people’s daily lives, for when the state acts it should be proportionate to the problem that needs resolution. The Bill will now prevent the second generation of passports, which would have added fingerprints to the facial biometric data already present on the biometric chip in UK passports. The previous Government’s plans for ID cards and a national identity register have been described by the director of Liberty as a grand folly. Well, that must be right; follies are created by people who have access to large sums of money and who have a fondness for frittering it on grand gestures. That seems to sum it all up.
My Lords, I think I am the last speaker before the gap, unless the Cross Benchers have finally achieved the status of being a recognised bloc with the right to have a speaker after the gap. That would be a wonderful way forward, because we might get further rights as well.
I have a few comments about the Bill. I welcome it very much, particularly because it perhaps indicates that this Government are taking a much more libertarian approach than their predecessor. Many people have asked why it all came about. The trouble is that socialists believe in central control because the state should be running everything while capitalists like to know everything about their customers, and to both the individual is a bit of a nuisance. Out of that grows the idea that we can sort it all out centrally.
To me, the national identity register was the objectionable part. I did not have a problem with a bit of plastic with a picture on it, replicating the “chip page”, as I think of it—that bit in the passport. It is rather sad in some ways that, having started issuing those, you could not have just that to slip into your pocket when you go over to France. It would have no greater authenticity than a passport, but you could use it for countries that did not have a visa requirement or need to stamp something in your pages; it would be waterproof, which would solve the problem of the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon; and it need not cost very much more because no other information would be gathered to produce it—it would just be a bit of plastic, produced in quantity for probably an extra £3 or £5. But we will not worry about that for the moment.
Everyone has said pretty much everything that can be said about this topic, so I would like to reinforce a couple of points and think about wider purposes and other points, so the Government might see where they could improve things elsewhere. The real problem that I have with all these great central databases is simple; Hitler was elected and got into power quite legally. Someone said to me years ago, “How do you break into Fort Knox?”. The answer is, “You steal the key”. If you get yourself elected to power in a democracy, eventually you have all the power to get at these things and there is no way of resisting it. Parliament has total sovereignty, and so some future Parliament can open up whatever security locks and controls you put on a database—unless, fortunately, you have some disobedient civil servants further down who ensure that the greater powers do not get to know about it or destroy the thing first.
I shall start the other way around. You may think that you have nothing to hide, but how accurate is the information? I do not have a problem with the powers in Clause 10 on credit checking, credit reference agencies and other things like that, but my one caveat is that the data are not accurate. But then the government data in these large databases are already inaccurate; when they have been audited, they have often been found to have a lot of errors in them. This is one of the troubles, and it is my lesson for the Government elsewhere; it is difficult to link up and reconcile large government databases. That is why the process gets very expensive, and then certain large consultancies—the usual big seven, eight or nine of them, which are generally American-owned, so they remove British taxpayers’ money to give it to their owners in America—will make an awful lot of money advising us on how to do it and the job will spin on for ever, as we have seen with certain other database projects.
The other thing about the cancellation of the scheme is that the Government have learnt a lot so far in trying to introduce it, and that knowledge has been useful. At the end of the day, the Government have a requirement for strong authentication of people’s identity in certain areas—think of simple things like security at the Ministry of Defence or access to government establishments all over the place. That will need to be retained, but you do not need a national ID card scheme to do that; that is just normal business practice. One of the groups that I sit on at the moment, an offshoot of a parliamentary group, is looking at the interoperability of identity card schemes among allies and internationally, as well as just in the UK. That is the sort of thing that we should be doing because therein can lie some cost savings, although there are a lot of complications with that, which I am not going to go into here.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights has produced an excellent report, its second of the 2010-11 Session: Legislative Scrutiny: Identity Documents Bill. It has some extremely good analysis in it. I draw attention to the section on non-EEA biometric immigration documents; perhaps we could save some money there, too. I realise that we need to have a biometric system to “deduplicate” people who make repeated applications to enter, or who try to falsify and get other people in under their original documents and so on, but are we actually gathering more information than we need? Do we think that we are trying to build this into a database of foreign residents because we think that more terrorists come into this country than we grow at home? We ought to look at the effectiveness of this before we gather too much information.
I also get worried about the exchange of information with other countries on how much is needed and how much is not. Is there some vulnerability regarding travel?
I should like to say something about purpose, in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Maxton. Identity cards are not designed to work online, so they will be useless when it comes to making transactions over the internet. There is a huge liability issue; if you use the card for financial or contractual purposes, where does the liability lie? The Government certainly were not going to accept liability, and other organisations will not accept a contract if there is not some liability in the proof of identity. This is what organisations such as the notaries—the notary public—and the scriveners provide.
Credit card fraud, which is often called identity theft but really just involves the theft of a credit card to try to steal money, is very different from impersonating someone. It is up to the banks to sort it out—it is their liability. They could easily increase the security of those tokens if they wanted to. They have chosen one of the cheaper routes—they use even less expensive routes abroad—because there is a balance between the cost and the amount of money they lose. They should really be using two-factor, preferably two-channel, authentication, and some are beginning to do it. It is not difficult to do, and if the incentive is there they will do it, but we must not confuse financial liability with the Government’s identity card scheme or passports.
Another issue that sometimes comes up is counting people in and out of the country. This is the great dream of the UK Border Agency—the passenger name record. We count everyone in and we count everyone out, and we prove who went in and who went out. Some people say that we need the identity card for that, but so what? At the end of the year we tot it all up and find that 100,000 people have stayed. We might even know who they are or what they are called because they have foreign passports. How do we find them without having to do a cordon and search and without rounding them up? How do we then get them back home? Where will we keep them in the mean time? We know all these problems, and it is not realistic. Maybe we could save a bit of money on not counting people in and out of the country. It is a pretty pointless exercise; we get very gloomy when we see how many people want to stay. If incentives are in the right place, people will go abroad while good people will stay and help the economy. We do not want to discourage people from moving across borders. That issue is for a debate on immigration at a later time, but it crosses over into the identity debate.
Like others, I have reservations about the duplication of the provisions of the Fraud Act 2006 on possessing identity documents that belong to other people. We must be very careful that we do not simply create more powers. There is great confusion between the different Acts, and those powers will get misused if there is any ambiguity at all. I am not sure how necessary they are.
I think that we should probably offer the £30 refund to all people who have cards already—it would be a good PR exercise. I would advise a lot of them not to return the cards but to keep them; they will be worth some money one day as a collector’s item—unless, of course, it is illegal under the fraud provisions.
My Lords, I now see the gap and hope that I will be permitted to step into it.
I opposed the ID card policy from the outset, seeing it as an affront to fundamental liberties in this country. So I am glad that the coalition Government have acted so expeditiously to abolish the scheme. I have always made it clear that I do not have any problem about enhancing the information contained within a passport for border control purposes. However, I objected to the ID card scheme and I particularly objected to the central multipurpose database. That is what makes it different from other identity cards; it is a sleight of hand when people say, “We in this House have identity cards for other purposes”. They are very different from the one that connects you to that all-powerful central database.
The ID card was presented very differently from the way in which it is now being presented. It was presented as a tool of empowerment and as a voluntary programme. I say to my noble friend Lord Brett that I have no false memory syndrome about this. It is too close to my heart. I remember only too well that ID cards were presented as the answer to a maiden’s prayer when it came to terrorism, crime, illegal immigration and abuse of the benefits system. We all pointed out that they would not be capable of doing any of that successfully. I also remember that they were going to be compulsory. Even after all the efforts in this House and the campaigning outside, and although our Government conceded to voluntariness, I always feared that, given the direction of travel, compulsory ID cards were waiting for us somewhere down the line.
The reason for my objection is that I believe ID cards create a different kind of relationship between the citizen and the state. That is what we have to hold on to. Inevitably, it would have meant the police being able to require a person to produce their identification on the street, which goes against the way in which our nation has worked. We have a common-law system. It is a great source of pride to us all that we are able to say when we are brought before a court: “Prove it”. When stopped by the police, we are able to say: “Do you have reasonable cause to stop me?”. Those things make for the British characteristic of not being supine or a compliant citizen, but somebody who knows who they are. We must always remind ourselves that the state is here at our behest; we are not here at the behest of the state. The ID card system was taking us down a very unfortunate road.
I say briefly that, while there may be an old guard on these Labour Benches that cannot accept that in government our party made some mistakes, happily there is a new generation now in leadership which takes a very different view.
My Lords, I am not sure where I would categorise myself in my noble friend’s interesting description of the opposition Front Bench. We have certainly had an interesting debate on the Second Reading of the Bill. As my noble friend Lord Bach said, we recognise that the proposals before us were contained in both the Conservative and the Liberal Democrat manifestos. We certainly do not seek to oppose the Bill. However, as we have heard from this debate on Second Reading, there are several important matters that we will want to scrutinise thoroughly when we move into Committee.
First, I will respond to the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, and others, in suggesting that the previous Government’s approach to ID cards indicated what has been described as a cavalier approach to the rights of the citizen. My party well understands the importance of the individual liberty of our citizens. It was the previous Government who signed up to the ECHR. We passed a series of equality Bills which added to the individual rights of our citizens. We brought forward freedom of information and data protection legislation. We were and are committed to the individual rights of our citizens. We also understand the responsibility of government to protect the security of citizens. As my noble friend Lord Bach suggested, we saw ID cards as a potentially valuable contribution to our national security. The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, is extremely experienced in these matters. At one time she, too, saw the advantages of ID cards. Will she explain, when she responds, how she thinks the Government can effectively protect identity in today’s circumstances?
I also suggest that several speakers have rather overlooked some of the benefits of the voluntary ID card scheme as a convenient, reasonable and affordable way for citizens to assert their identity, as well as being a lightweight and easy-to-use valid travel document in Europe. I should have thought that that is an answer to the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon—on the practicalities at least, if not on the substantive question that he put to the Minister. I look forward to hearing the response.
My noble friend Lord Maxton clearly described the divide between those who carry ID information and those who do not. I think he was suggesting that the technological gap matches the wealth gap in our nation. It is unfair to scrap the cards immediately with no capacity to offer compensation. A number of noble Lords have referred to that matter, and it was also discussed at length in the debate on the Bill in the other place. On Report, the Minister, Mr Damian Green, said that offering compensation or credit to the value of £30 against the purchase of a new passport would be unfair to taxpayers. One has to set that alongside the answer given by the Home Secretary, Mrs Theresa May, who said:
“People knew well before the election what would happen if a Conservative Government were elected”.—[Official Report, Commons, 9/6/10; col. 346.]
That will not do. Is it really suggested that members of the public should plough through each party’s election manifesto, determine that their investment is at risk if a certain party is elected and estimate which party is likely to be elected? I have the three manifestos with me. I would not describe them as a good read but they are weighty documents. Are we seriously suggesting that members of the public have to plough through them? I do not think so. As someone who has lost a few votes in your Lordships' House, I say to the Minister that if ever an issue united the House against her, I suspect that this is it. I should have thought that this matter warrants further consideration between now and Report.
I ask the Minister to clarify the costs. We are told that £835 million will be saved. However, if you delve into the facts of the case, you discover that this figure arises from a total cost figure and that it was planned to recover the costs through future fees to ID card purchasers. My reading of the documentation is that after year three there will be no benefit to the taxpayer and that the actual savings are far less than £835 million. I ask the noble Baroness to clarify that point further.
I should also like the noble Baroness to reassure me about the destruction of the data on the national identity register. Whatever the debate about that register, the fact is that Mr Damian Green said in the other place that destruction would take place—indeed, I think that the Bill makes it clear—
“within two months of Royal Assent”.—[Official Report, Commons, 15/9/10; col. 946.]
I should like to hear from the Minister exactly how that destruction will take place. It is right that the House should have that information. I do not think that the matter is as simple as it might sound. I should also like to know what independent verification there will be so that Parliament can be assured that the data have indeed been destroyed. My understanding is that the identity register is on two separate databases and that each database also contains other information for other purposes which will need to be retained. How the information will be deleted and how this process will interact with other material stored on the relevant databases are points of detail which merit further clarification.
I noted what the noble Baroness had to say regarding biometric passports. She said that the UK’s progress towards biometric passports of a standard comparable to those in the rest of the EU and, increasingly, other countries is clearly in jeopardy. The Government’s decision to scrap the NIR and halt development of the UK passport will surely leave British citizens out of step with much of the rest of the world. Is that the case? What are the implications of that in the longer term? As a result, will it not be harder for British citizens to travel with ease? The British passport is one of the most respected documents in the world. Can the noble Baroness reassure me that this policy will not put that at risk? I thought that my noble friend Lord Maxton spoke eloquently about that issue.
As I and my noble friends Lord Bach and Lord Brett have said, we will not oppose the Bill. However, we will join other noble Lords in carefully scrutinising this legislation, and we will certainly press the case for compensation for current holders.
My Lords, we have had an interesting and wide-ranging debate. My first point is that the various speeches have shown a philosophical divide in the House between those who think that it is a good idea for the state to amass information about citizens and that this is somehow empowering, and those who think that it is a good idea for the state to have as little as is necessary for the discharge of its duties and functions. That is one of the things that divide us regarding the national register and it lies at the heart of the way in which this scheme was constructed.
The Benches opposite challenged me personally on why I had changed my view. I will tell them. My reasons were expressed more eloquently than I can put them by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, who raised all the charges that one could about the flaws in the system, and he was right. This national register would have contained up to 50 items about individuals. That is a very large amount of information and would have included ephemeral details such as one’s address. A constant process of change would need to have taken place and there would have been a penalty for failing to provide the information.
Some noble Lords mentioned the view of Microsoft. It was Jerry Fishenden, an expert in this area, who said that bringing together in a single place all this information about the citizens of this country was a great honey pot and that the likelihood of it being invulnerable to attack and hacking was zero. Those were the moments when I began to have very serious doubts about the wisdom of this scheme, and the more I saw of it the less I liked it. It is partly for practical, but also for many philosophical, reasons that I concluded that the scheme was a bad idea.
The history of the way in which the previous Government’s thinking evolved was spelt out by other Members of the House, and I will not go into that again. Various arguments were put forward and eventually the scheme turned from being a good security precaution into being a good entitlement route. Part of the difficulty shown in defending this was the fact that the previous Government had constantly to change their justification for this extremely expensive scheme. I repeat that it is extremely expensive and it is quite right to say that it was to be the only one of its kind. One could have imagined that every time a swipe was made and the register had to incorporate a transaction—because it was going to be used in that fashion—the number of transactions would undoubtedly have crashed the system.
The design had many flaws. It also has limited validity and limited use because, as was rightly pointed out, the area of online fraud and losses, which increasingly is where identity authentication is needed and where fraud is taking place, would not have been helped at all by the existence of this register. So the design did not deal with one of the main areas where identity authentication was needed.
The noble Lord opposite asked how we would deal with identity issues. I entirely take the point that they are very serious and that further work and protection are needed. However, I am quite clear that the national register as it was constructed, with its associated card, was not the route to go down to get that degree of identity assurance.
Some noble Lords also raised the question of whether we would retain any of the technology that has been developed in relation to second-generation passports. As I said, the Government take the view that it is not necessary for the security of the British travel document, which we all agree is of high-quality, that it should incorporate second biometric data. Most Schengen countries are going down the route of asking for fingerprints. We are not going to do that and a large number of other countries are not going to, either. We do not take the view that there will be any barrier to the acceptability of our document. We also believe that other ways of increasing the security of the biometric data such as facial imaging, which we can certainly do at much less cost, are the way to go. Having said that, we will retain the technology in the Identity and Passport Service to ensure that, should we need to use it or should it be useful, we will have it available. However, we do not consider that it is needed as things stand.
Several noble Lords asked about how the destruction of information would be done and whether we could be sure that it would be done. It is a very important issue. As has been said, all biometric data and the vast majority of the personal data will be destroyed within two months of enactment. We have shared our approach with the Information Commissioner's Office, which is satisfied that all areas have been covered. The data destruction will be handled in accordance with the decommissioning guidance issued by the Cabinet Office and by the information assurance arm of GCHQ, the CESG. I believe that I am right in saying also that my honourable friend the Immigration Minister in the other place said that he would report to the House. I, too, am very happy to report to this House on the destruction process. We entirely agree that if we say we are going to do that, the public must be assured that it is happening. That will be a systematic process. We will not allow data that should no longer be legally held to be held by the Government.
Some noble Lords also raised the question of the power under the Act to sell data. Perhaps I may clarify that. Section 12 of the Act provides for the Identity and Passport Service to provide information to third parties for verification purposes. This permits the Secretary of State, under that power, to supply information to a person registered under the Act. The provision of this information requires the consent of the individual: at least that is a relief. For example, they may be applying for goods and services, which is why the information about them is required. Section 35 allows for a fee to be charged for the application of this provision, so one can see the intention potentially to make this a profit-making possibility for the Government. Our anxiety would have been about whether the information being provided was always accurate.
Some noble Lords asked whether there was an anomaly between our desire and intention to abolish the identity cards system and register and our continuation of biometric permits for foreign workers in this country. In fact, the latter is an EU requirement and, obviously, we undertake to continue to maintain our EU obligations. These are residence permits; they are not identity documents.
On costings, I cannot supply an immediate answer to the question raised by the noble Lord opposite. Our figures are very different, but I will write to him on that subject, as I realise that it is important to have clarity.
The fact is that there is significant sunk investment and there would have been future costs if we had operated the system. Those future costs will now not be incurred.
Here is more precision on the point that the noble Lord has just raised. In October 2009, the cost report provided the figure of £835 million for future investment. Noble Lords will be aware that fewer than 15,000 cards have been issued, which has been against an investment of £292 million. The difficulty is that one cannot be as confident as the noble Lord that the costs would be recouped from fees. Irrespective and independent of the attitude of the Opposition at the time, which I am sure acted as a dampener on the general public’s enthusiasm to purchase a card, it was clear that the public were voting with their feet. A total of 12,000 cards is not a large number of applicants.
The point has been made about the restricted areas—one in Manchester and one in London—but there was also a general inquiry register, to which members of the public from other parts of the country could apply so that they could have access to their cards when the cards became available. That is a rather different issue and a rather different figure.
I hope that the noble Lord will acknowledge that, at the end of the day, this was not going down a bomb.
If the question of refunds is the only complaint that the Opposition can find, that shows that there is not a great deal to object to in the legislation. Several points were raised. I was asked about refunds and whether we could supply discounts against other documents or at least allow the documents to have their full-life validity. As I pointed out, full-life validity would mean keeping the system open, which would probably cost an extra £60 million to £80 million. We simply do not think that that is justified or sensible. Noble Lords have said that this would involve a small sum of money, but we believe that £400,000 can be spent to the benefit of the general public in a rather more useful fashion than on a refund of £30, which is rather less than probably most people pay for a monthly subscription to Sky. We have to have a sense of proportion about this.
One or two noble Lords said that they found the Bill unnecessarily complex. In fact, when one gets into the detail of the Bill, there are quite a large number of complexities to unwind. However, I am happy to talk to them about the issues that they have raised and, if the Bill can be simplified, I shall be most delighted to do so.
A point about fraud was raised. The National Fraud Authority and the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau have produced a strategic threat assessment of the harm impact of identity crime—a matter with which I think we in the House are all concerned. It will lead to an action plan, which will be overseen by the Home Office. We have started work on it and the first meetings have begun to take place. I am personally very interested in this subject. The House probably shares the view that identity, and its protection, is something that we have to get right. It relates to issues such as how we combat crime that takes place through cybernetworks, so I do not underestimate the importance of getting this right. As I said earlier, we do not believe that the national register is the way to tackle it. However, we have a great concern about the need to protect victims of crime relating to people’s identities having been swiped.
In conclusion, we believe that the Bill is in the public interest and we are pleased to have brought it forward this soon. We believe it is right to start getting the balance that we think should pertain between the citizen and the state more where we would like to see it, and of course other legislation is coming forward which will swing further in the direction of the liberty of the citizen. I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.
The noble Countess is quite right. I do indeed have some information and apologise for not having given it. I think that one of her questions related to the UKBA. She asked about provisions within Sections 5 to 15 of the 2007 Act. We comply with the EU requirements and we have complied ahead of the 2012 deadline. I realise that the noble Countess raised one or two other aspects, but I am not in a position to answer them at the moment and so shall write to her.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Grand Committee.