Monday, 1 November 2010.
Identity Documents Bill
Committee (1st Day)
My Lords, if there is a Division in the Chamber, the Grand Committee will immediately adjourn, and resume after 10 minutes. Further, at a convenient moment after 4.15 pm, the Committee will adjourn to hear the Statement. It will resume five minutes after the Statement has been concluded.
Clause 1 agreed.
Clause 2 : Cancellation of ID cards etc
1: Clause 2, page 1, line 17, leave out from “day” to end of line 12 on page 2 and insert “will remain valid as a travel document in Europe until their expiry date”
My Lords, this amendment seeks to retain one part that is enshrined in the law of the 2006 Act; that is, the use of the identity card as a travel document. Identity cards are not a unique phenomena known only in the UK, although you might have thought that from some of the external non-parliamentary criticism some time ago. Across the whole of the European Union, they are the norm rather than the exception. All countries in the EU except Ireland and Denmark have them. Ironically, Denmark, although it does not have ID cards, maintains a national identity register. However, this amendment is solely about travel. This is an issue that caused no controversy whatever before the Bill was introduced, while it was being discussed or after it was passed.
Amendment 2 is simply a mechanism for achieving the aims of Amendment 1; namely, the right of the holders of ID cards to use them as travel documents for the duration of their validity. Given the lack of controversy over this aspect of the Identity Cards Act, there can be no ideological argument against retaining them. The case put forward in the other place for not retaining them was based on technical issues and, in particular, cost issues which, given the Government’s refusal even to offer refunds, must be the most relevant and pressing matter for them.
More than 13,000 ID cards were issued in the UK. However, these are not the only cards containing a UK emblem. The many British residents in Gibraltar are issued with ID cards which are accepted as valid travel documents throughout the EU and the EEA, which includes countries such as Switzerland. I understand that these are issued and maintained at relatively minimal cost. I should like to ask the Minister particularly whether the Government, through the Home Office or the IPS, have consulted the Government of Gibraltar on their experience of ID cards, the processes they use and the costs in this regard. In Europe, the use of ID cards as travel documents is not limited to Gibraltar. Germany, Sweden and a number of other countries, both EU member states and candidate member states, already use ID cards as travel documents.
Among the aggrieved citizens who have approached me and other Members of your Lordships’ House with concerns about being unable to use the ID card as a travel document are, in particular, elderly people who restrict their travel to Europe because of age and insurance issues and business people who frequently travel to Europe. For example, a gentleman from Kent has travelled to mainland Europe—as we used to call it—some 30 times since getting his ID card earlier this year. He values it very highly and does not like the idea of having to carry a passport, which will inevitably get damaged by constant use, while he can have an ID card that fits in his wallet.
For those reasons, and setting aside all the other arguments for or against ID cards, I believe that they should be retained for those who bought them as a valid, legal document. The issue is not one of ideology, and I do not believe that it can be one of cost. I hope the Government will look at the issue again with a view to extending the use of this part of the ID card as a travel document for those who bought them in the honest belief—without a particular view for or against ID cards as a security document—that they could be used as a travel document. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have added my name to Amendments 1 and 4 because, as I said on Second Reading, when we discussed this matter at length, it seemed a shame to throw out the one good bit of the scheme along with the bad bit. The bad bit comprises the national identity register, whereas having another bit of plastic with which to identify yourself is not a huge concern. As I said then—I may as well put this on record again—I should be very happy to see us have a plastic passport, as you might call it, comprising the photograph page of the passport with an identical chip in it. We are told that retaining this provision temporarily as a travel document for use in Europe would give rise to huge expense as whole sections of the national identity register would have to be preserved. I do not believe that that would be the case; I think the pudding is being over-egged here in order to make the case all one way.
I support Amendment 4 in preference to Amendment 2 because the latter seems to be rather all-embracing whereas Amendment 4 is concerned merely with the information that is relevant to a passport. That information would have to be retained for a passport anyway and would probably be sufficient to prove the authenticity of the card. I have not checked with my expert but I imagine that the card is very secure and that if you are in possession of the Government’s public key you can authenticate the card without having to have any of this background information off a database, and you can tell whether the card has been cloned or tampered with in any way. Therefore, I think we should do exactly as the noble Lord, Lord Brett, suggested and retain the card as a travel document. Perhaps in due course we could also have a convenient European travel card to go along with it, but we should retain the minimum of information that is required, if any.
My Lords, I support both the amendments in my noble friend’s name in this group and the related Amendment 4, to which I am one of the signatories. I thank the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, for also being a signatory to Amendment 4. On Second Reading, we heard the noble Earl’s views on the sense and convenience of continuing to use ID cards as travel documents in Europe, and he has re-emphasised those points today. We on these Benches share that view and the annoyance and frustration of those cardholders who, under the Bill, would be prevented from continuing to use their cards in this way. The amendments before us would enable existing ID cards to continue to be used as travel documents in Europe.
On Second Reading, having asserted that maintaining full-life validity of the existing ID cards would probably cost an extra £60 million to £80 million, which she considered to be unacceptably high, the Minister inferred that the alternative proposition of a refund of £30 to existing holders of the ID cards was unacceptable not because it was too much but because it was so trifling, since it was,
“rather less than probably most people pay for a monthly subscription to Sky”.—[Official Report, 18/10/2010; col. 742.]
That was an interesting phrase from the Minister, suggesting that Rupert Murdoch and his interests are never far from this Government’s thoughts.
“in dealing with people who purchased a now-useless card in good faith”.
The Government's argument appears to be that because they said prior to the general election that they would scrap the ID card system, everyone should have known that, and it is their own fault if they bought one. However, the individuals concerned bought one from the Government.
I am not talking entirely about compensation: I am talking about the issue of scrapping the card and not continuing at all. The amendment deals with it continuing as a travel document in Europe. The individuals concerned bought a card from the Government: not from a Labour Government or a Conservative Government, but from the Government. To those individuals, it is still the Government who are now withdrawing them. Until now, we have not had a culture in which it is acceptable for an arrangement entered into with the Government by an individual for a service in return for a payment to be totally withdrawn shortly afterwards, but for the payment made by the individual to be retained on the grounds that it is rather less than most people pay for a monthly subscription to Sky.
The Minister said at Second Reading that we must have a sense of proportion about this. She should address that comment to herself. Accepting these amendments would be one way for the Government to show a sense of proportion. Perhaps the Minister will tell us whether the same approach as that being shown to individuals with ID cards is being adopted for contractors who have been working for the Government on developing and running the ID card scheme. Have they, too, been told that they should have known that the scheme would no longer continue if there was a change in the political colour of the Government at the election and that, knowing this, they should not have entered into any contracts; and accordingly that no further payments are being made to them and the terms of any contracts are null and void, with no compensation payable? I do not think so. For this Government, there appears to be one rule for their dealings with those who can fight their corner, such as the large contractors and their owners and shareholders, and another rule for their dealings with individual citizens who do not have the resources or muscle to stand up to what some would regard as sharp practice.
The impact assessment refers to the cost of termination of contracts with contractors, and the cost of the refund process. If there are to be no refunds—which is why we are tabling an amendment suggesting that the cards should continue as travel documents in Europe—what refund process is being referred to in the impact assessment? How much would it cost? How much compensation has been paid for termination of contracts?
Using an ID card as a form of travel document is not an unfamiliar phenomenon in Europe, as my noble friend Lord Brett explained. The identity cards of Germany, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Romania, Greece, Slovakia and Sweden are all recognised by all EU members as valid for intra-EU travel. The argument that border agencies would be flummoxed by individuals using our ID cards for travel is not very convincing. Neither, incidentally, do there appear to have been problems with recognition of the limited number of identity cards issued here so far. As my noble friend Lord Brett explained, this is a facilitating amendment to enable the continued use of ID cards for travel purposes. We support the amendment. It is sensible—as is Amendment 4, to which the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, is a signatory. If the national identity register is to be destroyed, it makes sense to transfer data relevant to passports and international travel to the passport database and to the Identity and Passport Service. After all, the IPS is used to handling such information. Practically, such a transfer would not be hard to achieve. Transfer would require the permission of those individuals whose data are held, but these would not be difficult to obtain where, as is likely in most cases, the individual is willing to agree. That is because, on data transfer, the appropriate section of the Data Protection Act 1998 states:
“Personal data shall be obtained for only one or more specified and lawful purposes, and shall not be further processed in any manner incompatible with that purpose or those purposes”.
We do not see that what we are suggesting with this amendment falls foul of that criterion.
We would argue that there are wider merits in such a transfer with regard to the future development of the British passport. Destroying all the data on the national identity register adversely affects the UK’s progress towards biometric passports of a standard comparable to the rest of the EU, America and an increasing number of countries around the world. Will the Government’s decision to scrap the NIR and halt the development of the British passport leave British citizens out of step with the rest of the world? We fear that the answer is yes. The British passport is one of the most respected documents in the world, but the Government’s policy looks like it will put this at risk.
At Second Reading the noble Baroness expressed the Government’s view that it is not necessary for the security of the British passport to progress to second-generation biometric data in these documents, a view that stands in contrast—
If that is the case, I take the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Erroll. I think what he is saying is that he does not think it is relevant to the particular issue of the ID card continuing as a travel document, rather than that it is not relevant at all. If so, I accept what the noble Earl says.
The Government are clearly not too sure of the wisdom of their position, as the Minister implied at Second Reading when she said that she did not consider that there was a need to do this “as things stand”. But I hope that, in the light of that, the Minister will reflect hard on the amendment, which seeks to ensure that the identity card can continue to be used as a document for travel in Europe. The disregard now being shown for those who bought ID cards on the basis that they would be valid for a range of purposes, including travel in Europe, for 10 years, is unworthy of any democratic government. This group of amendments seeks to redress the situation by providing that the existing ID cards should remain valid as travel documents in Europe for 10 years and that existing ID card data should, subject to the agreement of the individual, be transferred to the passport database if the information on the national identity register is to be destroyed. The Government ought to be prepared to agree to these amendments and I hope that, on reflection, the Minister will indicate that that is now her position.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, has just raised a series of issues that are not covered by the amendments in this group, which I will cover when we come to the appropriate amendment. It is important to start our debate in Committee with this group of amendments because they go to the heart of the issues we have to deal with, and we need a debate on the underlying implications of what the opposition Benches are proposing. I owe it to the Committee to explain why, far from being simple, these amendments present a real difficulty.
Amendment 1 would remove the current status of the identity card as an identity document and instead it would become a simple plastic version of a passport. I have to say that if that had been the original intention of the identity card, matters might have been a great deal simpler. Instead, the previous Government indicated that ID cards were essential for security, necessary to prevent terrorism and crucial in detecting fraud. At Second Reading during the passage of the Bill in the other place, we were told that cancelling the ID card scheme would cause the end of civilisation as we know it. The current shadow Chancellor and then Home Secretary said at Second Reading of the Bill in the other place:
“All that we want to do is make it easier for banks, GPs and employers to verify someone's identity and thereby make it much more difficult for people to create multiple identities and commit identity fraud. That crime costs our economy £1.2 billion every year and has increased by 20% in the first quarter of this year alone. Combating identity fraud protects the security not just of individuals but of all of us collectively. Drug dealers, people traffickers and terrorists depend on access to false documents”.—[Official Report, Commons, 9/6/10; col. 358.]
We agree with a lot of the sentiments there; the issue is whether ID cards have performed any of those functions.
The amendment clearly recognises that the ID card was not that panacea. It is unfortunate that, after spending millions of pounds on a scheme which the public did not want, we now have, in effect, a credit-card-sized version of the passport for travel in Europe. That would be the effect.
I want to come back to that in a minute, but I want first to comment on the amendments to transfer the records of ID cardholders from the national identity register to the passport database. There are some problems. Those amendments depend on Amendment 1 being accepted, but the practical issues are these. The passport application and issuing process is governed by a fee structure which provides that the income generated from the fee can be spent only on passports. There is no provision which would allow the passport structure to expend resources, no matter how small, on other areas than passports. The Identity and Passport Service does not hold any other database, so unless the amendments are intended to suggest that a new one be established, it is not clear to me how the transfer of information could occur.
It is defined as a travel document. The issue is what the passport database contains. It is able to hold early biographical information and a facial biometric. The NIR, the other database, is going to be destroyed. I can only assume that noble Lords are suggesting that a new database be set up, because the passport database cannot take this stuff. That would require a separate provision—statutory enactment—and resources.
Furthermore, the information held on ID cardholders includes fingerprints. Fingerprints are not held for passports, and the IPS does not have the capacity to store fingerprints, nor any intention to start taking fingerprints for passports, as we have indicated. The amendment fails to consider how the fingerprints would be stored. Perhaps it is not envisaged that fingerprints would be retained, but in that event, it is not clear whether that is an omission or whether it represents a change of policy on the part of noble Lords opposite concerning the need to take fingerprints.
I am sorry to interrupt yet again, but paragraph (a) in Amendment 4 states,
“which is relevant to an application by a person (“P”) for a passport”.
In other words, it would not include fingerprints or anything which is extraneous to a passport application. I have to admit that I did not draft the amendment, but, on reading it carefully, the reason that I backed it but not Amendment 2 was that Amendment 2 seemed to be a blanket provision for transfer, but Amendment 4 seems to provide for only those things, which would be very few things. It would be a minimal data transfer merely to facilitate the issuing of a passport.
I seem to have caused part of this confusion with my amendment. As I understood during that brief period when I was the Minister responsible for identity cards, you have the information that is on the passport database and additional points that are on the national identity register. We are scrapping the national identity register, but we are told that virtually everyone who has an ID card is on the national passport database. So, on the national passport database we need to have an indication that some individuals have an ID card as well, as a travel document. To me, that seems to be the only information that needs to be transferred from the national identity register to the database for passports. That does not sound very resource-intensive or difficult in terms of legal base. I cannot see why any other information is required to be transferred if we are getting away from a register and back to just having a passport, albeit a plastic one.
My Lords, the amendment does not contain all that accompanying detail. It is not easy, therefore, to interpret what the noble Lord actually thinks should be transferred. If he wants to make that clearer, perhaps that might help, but, as things stand, these amendments have not been thought through. That is a pity because there is the germ of a good idea here. The idea of a passport card is not new, and Members of this House may be aware that—
I have a question in the light of what the Minister has said. If it were possible to produce something with which she agreed that achieved the objective to, as Amendment 1 said,
“remain valid as a travel document in Europe until their expiry date”,
by the moving of data on to the passport database, is that something that she would agree to?
I cannot give advance assent to a proposition that I have not seen in writing, so I cannot concede that point to the noble Lord.
Might I continue? It is the case that transport cards are issued by a number of countries for use with other countries where there is a bilateral or multilateral agreement, and there is a set of standards issued by ICAO that were adopted under a non-binding conclusion by the EU in 2005. It may be that the previous Administration chose not to invest in passport cards; they could have done so then. That might have been because of the work and the level of investment on ID cards themselves.
Another possibility at that stage would have been consideration of the use of vignettes. The ability to store the equivalent of a vignette in the passport card is under development, and we will wait to see how that progresses. At this stage, though, given that none of that base was laid by the previous Administration, we do not think it is possible or cost-effective to invest in passport cards as a priority.
My final point is again on costs. I appreciate that the amendments aim in effect to pass the data currently on the NIR to the passport database. As I have indicated, there is no existing provision, nor is it appropriate, for the IPS to establish a new database. The amendment also fails to recognise that it will be necessary to deal with lost or stolen cards that would have to be replaced. Once this thing is working, you cannot just say, “Well, if you lose your card, that’s too bad”; it has to be a living system.
Issuing replacement cards would require an infrastructure to be in place. Given what was said at Second Reading, I asked the IPS to estimate how much that would cost each year. The results are as follows: to maintain the infrastructure and pay service charges to the contractors would cost about £4 million; to replace lost or stolen cards would cost an estimated £500,000; and to maintain basic customer support facilities and appropriate levels of staffing would be another £500,000. Those are all per annum figures. About £5 million over one year—which, in the lifetime of these cards, means 10 years—gives a total of £50 million. I have tried to cover the issues raised by the Opposition. There are others—such as transgendered people having only one card, as they currently do with the passport, and the question, which we will come to, of refunds and consumer protection—which I shall go into in due course. However, even with the amendment, there is a catalogue of problems. Instead, I recommend that the amendment be withdrawn.
I am more confused now than I was when we started. I cannot even recognise the replacement costs. But I return to the issue of database transfer. It takes only an asterisk or other symbol on the passport database to indicate that a person is using the same information on the database on a new plastic card which is valid in Europe. If the person loses the card, the cost of replacement will be the cost of the plastic card. Banks do it thousands of times a day. If the cost were remotely as much as is mentioned here then banks would be charging us very substantial sums for card transfers. We are not maintaining a database, so I do not know where the £4 million figure comes from. The passport database, which is well regarded and will continue, will indicate that this small number of people also have a plastic card which will expire on a given date.
I have another question for the noble Baroness. If she does not have the answer to hand, I would be happy to accept it in a letter. How many ID cards does the United Kingdom—the UKBA—accept, and from which countries, as travel documents? If we accept many dozens of them—I think that we are talking a score or more—and if a score or more are used internally in Europe, would it not be a good idea to use this limited number of people as a pilot or experiment to see whether there is value in a longer-term policy of issuing a travel card in Europe?
Those are my questions. I will of course withdraw the amendment, but one can expect the discussion to continue on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Amendment 2 not moved.
Clause 2 agreed.
3: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—
The Secretary of State shall, by order, provide for a compensation payment of £30 to persons who have purchased an ID card under the terms of the Identity Cards Act 2006.”
In speaking to Amendment 3, I shall speak also to the other amendments in this group, Amendments 8 and 20. We come to a very important matter of principle—the Government’s decision to refuse to compensate cardholders for the scrapping of the scheme. My noble friend Lord Rosser already picked up some of the points when he spoke to the first group of amendments. I ask the Minister what the Government have to say to the thousands of individuals who have spent money buying cards in good faith. These cards were sold on the basis, and the purchasers were given the impression, that they would be valid for a wide range of purposes for 10 years. However, there has been a change of government, a change of policy, and seemingly no care for those left inconvenienced and out of pocket as a result. I wonder what the Government now have to say to those people. Why do the Government seem happy to penalise them?
We have been told that the cost of £360,000 to compensate all those who will be eligible for a refund under the terms of Amendment 3 is too much. However, that is the maximum figure. It is quite plausible that a certain percentage of those eligible to claim will choose not to do so. It would be possible to entertain a time limit, a date after which claims could no longer be made, which might lower the total compensation figure. However, the important factor is that compensation had been offered.
On Second Reading, the Minister said:
“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”—
this is a remarkable statement—
“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”.—[Official Report, 18/10/10; col. 715.]
That is, to say the least, unsympathetic. To rely on the public having an in-depth knowledge of party manifestos or coalition agreements—documents that in most cases were published long after most cardholders had spent £30—is a touch unrealistic. The Government's continued reliance on their insistence that people knew well before the election what would happen if a Conservative Government were elected is an extraordinary decision.
I received an e-mail this morning from Mr Nicholas Hodder, who informed me that, since obtaining his ID card in May this year, he had presented it 30 times in order to enter or leave the Schengen area. I ask the Minister why someone like Mr Hodder, who in good faith purchased the ID card and has used it effectively, should suddenly be told, despite the fact that he bought it for a 10-year period, that it will be taken out of use very shortly and that he is not to receive compensation?
I pray in aid the impact assessment produced by the Minister’s department. The IA looked at five options. Under option 3, the return of cards is not required, but there will be a return of fees to current cardholders. The benefit of that option over the do-nothing option 1 is said to be:
“Reputational benefits for the government, in dealing with people who purchased a now-useless card in good faith”.
Is the Minister not concerned about the reputation of the Government? Does she not see that in not agreeing to refund £30, the Government are developing a new principle, which can only reduce trust in Governments generally? Why is it acceptable to compensate companies for termination of contracts? I refer her to the preferred option of the Government. As far as concerns funding, the cost of £22 million is contained in the summary of policy option 1 in the impact assessment. I will come on to whether it should be policy option 1. Option 1 refers to the costs of,
“termination of contracts with contractors”.
Why is it reasonable to pay the costs of terminating contracts with contractors but not with members of the public?
I refer again to the impact assessment. The preferred policy option—that of cancelling ID cards without refunds and with no requirement to return the cards—states that the £22 million includes the cost of the refund process. Clearly, at one point, the Government considered including refunds in the policy option that was being preferred; but presumably at some point they decided to drop this. None the less, it would appear that the £22 million must include the cost of refunding fees. Perhaps the Minister can clarify this point.
My confusion about the impact assessment of 26 May 2010 is that it refers to five options. Option 1, do nothing. Option 2, scrap ID cards, return of cards not required, no return of fees. Option 3, scrap ID cards, return of cards not required, return fees. Option 4, scrap ID cards, return of cards mandatory, no return of fees. Option 5, scrap ID cards, return of cards mandatory, return fees. On page 1 of the impact assessment, signed by the Minister, Damian Green, on 29 May 2010, it states:
“Option 2 is the preferred option”.
But when I turn to the analysis on page 2, this option is described in the heading as “Policy Option 1”. Can the Minister clarify exactly which option we are talking about?
That brings me to Amendment 8. This is a straightforward and, I believe, much needed addition to the Bill. Conservative Party Ministers, when in opposition, made claims about the current cost of the ID card scheme that ranged wildly from nearly £1 billion to up to £20 billion. However, the national identity service cost report of October 2009 stated that the projected forward cost of providing ID cards until 2019 was £835 million. Crucially, this figure does not equate to the savings to be made from scrapping the scheme. We know this because the impact assessment which accompanies the Bill states at the bottom of page 4 that:
“The October 2009 cost report indicated that cancellation of ID cards would avoid future costs of £835m up to October 2019. However, these costs were planned to have been recovered through future fees to ID card purchases. Therefore, there are no benefits to the taxpayer from Year 3 onwards”.
The tables set out in the impact assessment reveal that total savings from scrapping the scheme are £180 million, and the total cost of cancelling ID cards and the NIR are stated as £22 million.
What is clear from the apparent muddle is that the Government have been using rather dubious figures to claim savings on the scale that they would have liked to see. I believe that a definitive and preferably independent audited costs and savings report is urgently required to clarify this matter for all concerned. It would be useful if it were part of the duty of the Government to provide clarity in this area. Amendment 20 is consequential on Amendment 3. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have added my name to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. To be honest, I am disappointed that we have to spend time on this issue. That is because on any normal sense of simple fairness, we would not hesitate to repay the £30 that individual citizens have laid out for one of these cards. I have also to express disappointment at the reasoning advanced for the refusal to do so. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has already gone over this, and indeed it was referred to at length at Second Reading. I cannot resist quoting from the Statement on this made by the Home Secretary in June:
“We made it clear that we were opposed to identity cards … The Liberal Democrat party made it absolutely clear that it was opposed to identity cards. People knew well before the election what would happen if a Conservative Government were elected”.—[Official Report, Commons, 9/6/10; col. 346.]
Frankly, it demonstrates an astonishing lack of reality vis-à-vis the great British public to believe that they read party manifestos. If I am allowed to do so, I would like to ask anyone in the Committee to raise their hand if they read all three party manifestos. I think we can say that the noble Lord, Lord Brett, was the sole person to have paid such attention to the detail.
No, but even if we are not, I am still fascinated to know how many of us did. I will be quite frank—I did not even read my own party’s manifesto. It was 115 pages long, for a start. However, even if we assume that people had read the party manifesto and knew that we were committed to a repeal of the scheme, there was nothing in any manifesto about repayment of the fee. Anybody reading it would, I suspect, have assumed that if the Government were going to do that, they would return the £30 that was laid out for the purchase. That is my first point.
Secondly, in the statement of the deputy director of policy of the Identity and Passport Service, which is annexed to the report of the Joint Committee on the Bill—it was a pre-scrutiny report published in the middle of October—it was made clear that, although all cardholders had been warned that the cards would be made null and void by the passage of the Bill, there was no reference to non-repayment of the fee. It is very simple: if you knew about all of this—and the vast majority of the public did not—there was still nothing about repayment of the fee.
Then we come to the argument which is to be found at page 20 of the Joint Committee report:
“Comment has been raised that the absence of a refund provision in the Bill is denying cardholders access to safeguards set out in consumer protection legislation. However, an ID card would not be considered as a consumer good. That is because the issue and the holding of an ID card are not considered to be in the nature of a consumer transaction and a sale of goods”.
That, again, comes from the deputy director of policy at the Identity and Passport Service. That is his view. As a lawyer, I am extremely dubious about the reasoning. It seems to me that there was a sale and purchase of goods; namely, a card. I do not see any reason why this should be taken out of the normal consumer protection legislation. Even if it is, surely it is bizarre for this Government, who are committed to fairness—and I am passionately committed to fairness—to resile from the general standard that prevails by law between consumers and suppliers, between purchasers and sellers, on the basis that there is no strictly narrow legal requirement under legislation to do so. Surely we should be a model and satisfy the spirit of all that consumer protection legislation.
I am sorry to have gone on but it strikes me that this is an own goal. It may be small in financial terms—£360,000 is scarcely a blink of the Treasury eyelid these days—but not in terms of the message that it sends out. I want this coalition Government to walk their talk and to act fair as well as talk fair.
My previous confession about having read all three manifestos was somewhat of a wasted investment, given that after the weekend following the election, we had a coalition agreement. However, I recognised at Second Reading that one of the few things that appears in both the Liberal Democrat and the Conservative manifestos was the decision to scrap ID cards. I saw in neither manifesto a reference to a refund or non-refund. When I was, briefly, the Minister responsible for the launch of the scheme, I debated this with Mr Huhne of the Liberal Democrats on the radio, and while he talked about scrapping them, he was silent about the travel document. I was asked what would be the advantage of having one of these documents if the scheme were to be scrapped by the incoming party, and I said that at least they would have value for 10 years as a travel document. Mr Huhne chose not to contradict that and he certainly made no reference to refunds.
As the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, said, it is a question of fairness. In the other place, the Minister of State accepted that there were people who, in these straitened times, would have the hardship of having spent the £30. He did not go on to follow his logic, which is that, if you believe in fairness, you should restore that £30 to the individual.
Leaving aside all aspects of ideology, policy and security, I believe that the reputation of this Government—and the reputation of any democratic Government of this country, irrespective of party—is worth a lot more than £360,000. I hope that the Minister will take that on board.
My Lords, I did not add my name to the amendment because there was not room, but I spoke about this on Second Reading. It is absolute lunacy not to offer a refund. It could be optional, in which case, as I said, a lot of people might well then decide to keep the cards as a collector’s item and an investment for the future. The concept that we would have to spend £22 million refunding the money is, to my mind, dotty. The Government have clearly fallen into the hands of the large systems integrators again, who are siphoning off our taxpayers’ money to America. I would suggest that they deal with some British SMEs for a change, but unfortunately government procurement rules do not let us do that at the moment. That is just a quick side swipe.
Thinking about the statements of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, about consumer protection, I thought that there was also provision under the ECHR whereby Governments could not expropriate private property without compensation. I suppose that the ID card is not people’s property, but presumably there is an issue because they paid for it and were expecting something in return. If it is expropriated without compensation, I should have thought that that might be an interesting case to go further up the line—there is nothing like stirring things up a bit.
I find amusing the concept that the general public are better than the weather forecasters, all the pundits and all the experts, and can predict the outcome of the next general election several months ahead. That is wonderful. I would love to know who those members of the public are. Then there is the idea that they could also predict the coalition, the way round that it ended up, which was not expected by many people at all. For a while it was largely thought that Labour and the Liberals would end up together. Then there is each of the parties having the arrogance to say that they will have sufficient control over the next Parliament to get what they want through. This is still a democracy. Opposition parties are still supposed to have some say. I know that after a few unfortunate years under first Margaret Thatcher and then Tony Blair, when majorities were excessive, Governments behaved in that way. Perhaps it is good that we return to the situation where Governments do not have control over Parliament and these things have to be agreed among other people, including Cross-Benchers—who are sometimes very cross.
I appreciate the importance that the noble Lords who have spoken place on the matter of refunds, but it is not at all clear that their anxiety on this matter is widely shared elsewhere. Following Second Reading, I asked the Identity and Passport Service to inquire into exactly how much correspondence it had had about refunds. I would expect that to be the place where letters were sent on that subject. From May to September, it received a total of 297 letters about ID cards, of which 122 included complaints about refunds. We do not know whether all of those 122 letter writers were cardholders, among the 12,000 who have paid for the card, but I do not think that that is a significant indicator of widespread indignation on the part of the public.
Does the Minister agree that in September it was not clear that there would be no refund—no one had told them? Does she further agree that if the service were to write round now to tell everyone that there will be no refunds, the response to that would be likely to be very different?
My Lords, I have just said that this survey of correspondence went on after the statement was made in the summer. These figures apply right up to the end of September. If there had been widespread anxiety about whether people would get their money back, we would have heard more from the holders.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way, but will she answer the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips? Is she saying that all holders were written to and told that no refunds would be given, or are they expected to read the statements that appear in the media?
They have, however, been written to to say that the scheme will be cancelled. The key issue is not that of a refund to the individual but how much the taxpayer is expected to pay to end this wanton scheme. We have already seen that the previous Labour Government spent £292 million on the ID scheme and the associated biometric work. That is a staggering amount for a scheme that was predicted to be self-financing through the fees, and given that only 15,000 cards are in circulation in the first year of issue, 3,000 of which were given away free anyway. The amendment’s effect is that the 12,000 cards should be given away free of charge. We cannot go on spending taxpayers’ money in this fashion, particularly when the public have shown overwhelmingly—there is no ambiguity about this—that they do not want ID cards. At the previous election, they showed their unwillingness—
Will the noble Baroness provide the evidence to back up her conviction that the public do not want ID cards, as all the opinion polls taken by this and the previous Government do not indicate that that is the case? However, more importantly, is she saying that some people are rich enough to write off the £30 without worrying and complaining, while the people who are being punished are the poor people for whom £30 is more than they can afford, even if they can afford Sky Television? That is the logic of it.
My Lords, we do not have a socio-economic profile of those who bought cards. We have other profiles but not that one as we did not inquire about people’s incomes. However, I do not think that the public are very interested in the Government spending a further £400,000 on refunds. Unfortunately, the sum is not £360,000 as an administrative overhead is incurred in refunding the £30 fees, which themselves amount to £360,000. You might say that £400,000 is not a significant sum in the previous Government’s overall scheme of spending on ID cards. Indeed, I hear noble Lords present saying that. However, I am afraid that the Government maintain the contrary view. It is a significant amount and, frankly, noble Lords opposite have not provided a good reason why a refund should be given. Instead they accuse the coalition of being mean-spirited. If mean-spirited means extricating ourselves from an expensive failure at the least possible cost to the taxpayer, I think that we are doing the right thing. We do not accept that yet more money has to be spent on ID cards.
I am happy to ensure that the details of how we extricate ourselves from the ID card mess are placed in the public domain. As the Immigration Minister made clear on Report in the other place—I again confirm this—a Written Ministerial Statement will be made to the House on completion of the destruction process. I will place a copy of the planned destruction process referred to in the amendment in the Library.
The appropriate place for reporting costs and savings associated with scrapping the ID card scheme is in the annual report published by the chief executive of the Identity and Passport Service. We will do that. It will also provide details of the cancellation scheme and the figures provided will be subject to independent auditing. It has been mentioned that there is a contractual relationship with the suppliers of the cards, which we inherited and, under law, we cannot get out of. We will have to honour that. I fear that that is a different issue from the question of the £30.
The coalition made clear its position on refunds at the time of the 2006 Act—we did not support it—and during the election campaign. It is simply not true to say that this was tucked away in manifestos to be seen only by Westminster anoraks. It was widely reported and commented on. It was widely known that the coalition would scrap the cards. The approach to refunds was also covered in the newspapers. It was not a secret. It was referred to in television and radio programmes. It was an ongoing story.
Will the noble Baroness tell us exactly when this information was made public vis-à-vis those who had bought their cards? Was it before or after they had bought their cards? If it was during the election campaign, many people had already bought their cards before the election campaign had started.
The question of the cards and whether they would be valid after the election, and everything associated with it, was a continuous process. Certainly, a large number of people bought their cards fully aware of the fact that there was controversy about them. As the noble Lord, Lord Bach, indicated at Second Reading, the House has always taken account of the content of manifestos, which is true today of the Opposition Benches.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, asked about the impact assessment.
The noble Baroness quotes me correctly. Obviously, the House does take notice of manifestos, but there is nothing in the manifesto that says that those who had bought cards when they are abolished will not be paid anything. If the manifesto had said that, this might be a different argument. When I said that the House, of course, took note of what is in the manifesto, that is only stating the obvious. But it does not do anything to answer the point so well made by noble Lords in this Committee.
I quite appreciate what the noble Lord has just said. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, asked about the impact assessment, which simply set out the possibilities in a straight catalogue of options, which ranged from doing nothing through to the option chosen. Today, we are debating the option chosen by the Government.
I am sorry to disagree with the noble Baroness, but, with the greatest respect, first, clearly, this impact assessment was produced in a hurry, because it is such a mess. Clearly, on page 2 of the impact assessment, it is shown as option 1. Yet, on the front page, option 1 is the “do nothing” option, whereas option 1 on page 2 is the option to cancel ID cards without refunds and no requirement to return cards. But when I look at the first section of policy option 1 on page 2, under the cost figures of £22 million, the costs include the cost of the refund process. I rest my case.
Option 2 was the preferred option, as I have made clear. That is the option that we are discussing. I am afraid that there is an error simply on page 2. The figure of £22 million was also queried. That is the cost of decommissioning in the first year.
The Government take the view that it is not a sensible use of public money to throw further costs behind this scheme, and that the right thing to do with taxpayers’ money is to cancel this scheme but not to pay refunds. Accordingly, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, the Minister has invited the mover of the amendment to withdraw it, but that still leaves the opportunity to make a brief intervention. I did not speak at Second Reading—indeed, I was not present—but I have had the considerable privilege of listening to the whole of the debate today, except the very first words that the noble Lord, Lord Brett, uttered.
I am a mildly interested party, for quite irrelevant reasons, in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, introduced the car scrappage scheme. My car became relevant to it precisely 24 hours after the scheme ended, and I have behaved impeccably towards the noble Lord and indeed all members of the previous Government by not alluding to that fact until this very moment. I am also perhaps the only member of the Committee to be over the age of 75 and therefore entitled no longer to pay a television licence. I have always regarded that as a generous concession by the state—although you do not realise, until you have to do so, that securing it is a little like proving that you are not a money launderer.
The jury must be out on the country’s enthusiasm for the ID project. There was some reaction that the Government were wrong to suggest that it was wholly unpopular, but the fact that only 12,000 people had bought these ID cards since 2006 did not suggest an overwhelming popularity and that they would do well as a loss leader in a supermarket. I think that we can say that there is something to be said on either side of that argument.
First, it was a phased rollout, starting in 2009 and ending in 2012-13. It was restricted to Manchester Airport, London City Airport and the area of Manchester. It would have been rolled out across the rest of the country over the period. There is also a register of applications for people in other areas who had to wait because the cards were not available, so to say that there was a take-up of only 12,000 is actually to pretend that the whole country could have applied when in fact it was very restricted.
That is an entirely fair point, which I am happy to take. The fact remains, though, that even under the provisions that the noble Lord issues, I still stand by my statement: the figure of 12,000 does not indicate overwhelming popularity for the scheme. People were not fighting in order to get their own cards.
On the fact that compensation is available for contracts but not in different languages with regard to ID cards, presumably that occurred because the original contracts allowed for what would happen in the event of the scheme in any way being interrupted. That is the way in which contracts are usually written. I have heard everything that has been said about what this Government have not done but I notice that the previous Government, in selling the ID cards, did not appear to have built in a provision in relation to compensation calculations, perhaps for the good reason that they did not want the thought to enter the public mind that they might not be returned at the next general election and that therefore the ID scheme would be interrupted.
On the same point, I have to say quietly that although, in their rush towards modernisation, the Government were keen to remove Latin entirely from public life in this country, the phrase “caveat emptor” is presumably one that still rested in their mind when they brought in the scheme in the way that they did.
My Lords, this has been an interesting debate. There is some risk that we will return to debating the broad principle of ID cards. I will desist from doing so, save to say to the noble Baroness that, on the question of popularity, my noble friend Lord Brett was right when he spoke about rollout and the expectation that the number of people purchasing ID cards would increase over time. Secondly, there is no doubt that opinion polls have shown consistently that the public support ID cards. However, we are not here to debate that. The Opposition have accepted that this policy was contained in the manifestos of both coalition parties. That is why we do not seek to obstruct the progress of the Bill. However, as the noble Countess, Lady Mar, suggested, it is important that due process is observed before statements are issued by the Government, and the noble Baroness has graciously accepted that point.
The second point about manifestos concerns their relation to Salisbury-Addison and the Salisbury Convention. We are not quite into that territory. However, I am certain, from my reading, that no statement was made by either party that no compensation would be given to cardholders who will lose many years’ use of their ID cards. The noble Baroness is resisting coming back to the point of principle here. As far as concerns the reputation of any government, to say to the public, “It is your fault, you were silly enough to buy an ID card when some opposition parties said that they would scrap them if they got into power”, is to expect the public to take a punt on the election result. Who could have forecast that we would now have a coalition Government? It is treating ordinary people with a lack of respect.
I say to the noble Baroness, whom all noble Lords respect enormously, that she is digging a hole for herself here. If my party were still in government, the possibility of us getting some proposal like this through the House of Lords would be nil. Obviously, the circumstances of the coalition are different, but I suggest that the Minister should think very seriously between Committee and Report, because the view of the House of Lords will be that this is not the right approach, and that compensation should be offered.
I will not bore away at the issue of the impact assessment. I hope that, between Committee and Report, there will be a clarification of which option we are talking about. Secondly, the preferred option set out in the impact assessment says that the £22 million includes the cost of the refund process. I would be grateful if the Minister will write to me to confirm whether the £22 million includes the cost of refunds. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 3 withdrawn.
Amendment 4 not moved.
Sitting suspended for a Statement in the House.
5: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—
“ID card trial for airside workers
(1) The Secretary of State shall lay before both Houses of Parliament a report on—
(a) the outcome of the trial use of ID cards for airside workers; and(b) the measures the Secretary of State proposes to implement arising from it.(2) Any ID card issued to an airside worker under the critical workers scheme, which is valid immediately before the day on which this Act is passed, shall continue to be valid until the report referred to in subsection (1) has been laid before Parliament.”
My Lords, we turn to a new aspect of the Bill, perhaps an appropriate one at a time when security, particularly aviation security, is at the forefront of our minds. I declare a past interest: for a few months in 2007 I was chairman of the AOA, the Airport Operators Association, before returning to government. I am delighted to be able to move this probing amendment, and I will be interested to hear what the Government’s view is of the points that are made during the debate.
Airside workers fall into the category of those employed in sensitive roles and locations where identity is important to public protection. Effective identity assurance acts as the cornerstone of a good personnel security regime at airports and elsewhere. As part of the introduction of identity cards, as the Committee will know, an 18-month trial was developed at Manchester Airport and London City Airport whereby ID cards would be used in place of existing identity verification processes and documentation. We recognised that the ID card had a capacity, first, to provide a single means of identity assurance across airports and, secondly, to facilitate quicker and more efficient pre-employment checking, with obvious benefits to both employers and employees.
The ID card would have cut the frequency of the need to renew airside passes from every three years to every 10—thus, we argue, cutting bureaucracy and cost. The added identity certainty provided by the ID card offered benefits, we argue, including improving the portability of reference checks between employers and airports, creating greater flexibility for employers and staff; speeding up pre-employment clearances for cardholders moving from one airside job to another or between airports; kick-starting joint work to explore opportunities for streamlining airside pass regimes; and helping to ensure that everyone using airports was confident about their safety while there.
As we learn from reading the Public Bill Committee proceedings held in another place on 29 June, the process of getting an airport ID card used to take eight to 12 weeks from beginning to end. The introduction of the ID card scheme at Manchester Airport reduced this time to just one day for workers renewing their airport passes. The response from workers at Manchester Airport to the scheme was, not surprisingly, pretty positive. I draw the Committee’s attention to Question 66, asked by the honourable Mrs Hillier MP to Mr Mike Fazackerley, the customer services director at Manchester Airport. Mrs Hillier asked:
“You have gone through some of the evaluation. The Bill proposes repealing the scheme, but whether or not the card continues to exist in its current form, can you see the longer term benefits that there would have been, including security improvements, time and cost-saving, and greater convenience, had the pilot scheme been rolled out more widely and made available to others?”.
Mr Fazackerley, an expert witness, replied:
“I think that the principal benefits to airport workers are exactly as we have outlined: there is the ability to streamline and speed up, and to make the process of getting an airport pass easier. There were some marginal benefits; for example, we dramatically reduced the amount of data that we were holding on individuals, because we felt that we did not need data that the Government had, but I guess that that is fairly marginal”.—[Official Report, Commons, Identity Documents Bill Committee, 29/06/2010; col. 28.]
My honourable friend Mrs Hillier contradicted Mr Fazackerley to say that she did not think that was a marginal point—I agree with her—as regards reducing the amount of data held on individuals.
In addition to benefits in time saved and convenience, the Public Bill Committee heard from Mr Fazackerley of the ability to reduce the volume of data held on individuals on account of the introduction of the ID card scheme. The biometric material contained in the card could be relied upon, and much of the other information collected previously on those who applied for security passes could simply be disposed of.
The background to the pilot scheme was carefully worked out by the Department for Transport and developed with airports, the air industry and other interested bodies. They are all rightly eager to discover the benefits and lessons to be learnt from the trial in areas of good practice, cost and time saving, and improved security. In the six months that the scheme was allowed to run, we did see benefits, so why stop the scheme in its tracks now? Even if the Government are determined to scrap the card itself—that is obviously the case—the Minister and her colleagues could apply the lessons that would continue to be learnt from this trial to another identity document—possibly the passport—or simply use them to streamline the onerous and time-consuming security checking processes at airports. They could share the information with other airports and perhaps other industries, such as the nuclear industry where such protection is vital and speed of checking is important.
At Question 74, Mrs Hillier said to Mr Fazackerley that,
“you mentioned that you would like to see some of the benefits of the evaluation continue, although the evaluation only got to a certain point. Would you like to keep that going and see the full benefits, perhaps in an attempt to reignite such uses, even with another document?”.
“Very much so. If we could leave with the same benefits, perhaps through use of the passport, that would be a very positive move”.—[Official Report, Commons, Identity Documents Bill Committee, 29/06/2010; col. 30.]
If the Minister decides not to accept what we think is a sound amendment, will she help us with the plans that the Government have to reform security processes with regard to airside personnel at UK airports? As recent events have shown, the issue of airport security is far from going away. In many ways, it has been a central issue of the past few days. As the noble Baroness has just said in the Chamber, the Government will be addressing it with great concern.
The trial was a good idea. From this side of the Committee, we argue that it should be allowed to continue in order to allow all the lessons that can be learnt enough time to reveal themselves for the benefit and safety of all.
Finally, I remind myself of the exchanges at the end of the Public Bill Committee in another place where some brand new, energetic Conservative MPs, attempting no doubt and quite properly to win favour with their Whips, asked question after question trying to get poor Mr Fazackerley to say that the whole thing was a complete disaster. Unfortunately for them, he pointedly and repeatedly told them that it was not. It all ended rather sadly for the honourable Member for Amber Valley who, at question 80, asked:
“Have you experienced many passengers flying from Manchester airport using the ID card, rather than a passport?”.
I suspect that the reply was supposed to be, “Oh no, I have not”. But Mr Fazackerley said:
“I honestly could not put numbers on it, but I know from personal experience, and the experience of other people who have had them, that people have used them successfully when flying out of Manchester, yes”.—[Official Report, Commons, Public Bill Committee, 29/6/10; col. 31.]
I look forward to the Minister’s response to this debate. I beg to move.
The noble Lord, Lord Bach, kept saying that the airside ID cards would help to prevent what has happened in the past few days. Is he really suggesting that? It was not people who were involved; it was parcels. Does every parcel have to have an ID card? I cannot see how having an ID card would have prevented what has been happening in the past few days with parcels.
I am grateful to the noble Countess for asking that question. I have tried to be extremely careful. Of course, I am absolutely not saying that. But security at airports—airside and the other side— is obviously a crucial issue. In this limited scheme of six months, it seemed as though the airside part of it was convenient for employers and employees from various companies who worked that side. I would also argue that there were some security conveniences as well. But, of course, recent events—as far as we know today, which I accept—are nothing at all to do with ID cards.
I think that there might be some advantages for security in this scheme, and I would like to know the Government’s view on that. From the exchanges I have been reading from, it seems that there may well have been some advantages so far as security is concerned. Indeed, I am reminded that Mr Fazackerley was asked a question by the honourable David Simpson:
“On a point of clarification, Mr Green asked Mike—
I presume that is Mr Fazackerley. I do not think that we would call an expert witness by their Christian name in this House, but perhaps I am being old-fashioned—
“a question about the fact that it takes eight to 12 weeks to carry out the security side of the process, but if a card is lost or misplaced, it can be replaced within 24 hours. Did you say that no further security checks were carried out?”.
Mr Fazackerley answered by saying:
“At that point. The benefit that we got from the system was that you were absolutely sure that the person who was standing in the pass office was the right person”. —[Official Report, Commons Public Bill Committee, 29/6/10; col. 28.]
Whether what he said about the issue goes to the question of security or not is a matter for the Committee to decide.
My Lords, when I was involved in this, it seemed potentially to be a win-win situation. We have heard from my noble friend about the impact on airports and their ability to clear people airside for security purposes in a much shorter period. We know also that there was initial resistance from the staff, not to the detail but to the fact that the system was being made compulsory. It was only when the potential of what the system was about that the hesitation, to put it mildly, expressed by the staff turned into at least into an enthusiasm to investigate without necessarily committing to the results.
The third area is that of the airlines. The experiment was being carried out at Manchester and at London City airports, although any two airports could have been chosen. Carriers flying in and out of those airports do not have resident senior technical staff. They may have a contractor with airside passes who provides the general maintenance of an aircraft, perhaps unblocking a sensor or putting right a temperature gauge. If a more serious technical problem arises, engineers have to be brought in either from a repair facility or the headquarters of the airline involved. Those people will arrive at the airport with no airside security clearance whatever, but they cannot be allowed just to wander in and repair the aircraft. Therefore, another period of delay is built into the clearance of those individuals. However, with the provision of an identity card and the security it offered, this was another area in which a considerable advantage would have been gained for the airline industry, for passengers who could be delayed, and by making a saving in costs to airports themselves. Aircraft sitting like parked vehicles is not an advantage. At the start of the experiment, these were things that were seen to be potential advantages, so in a sense it is sad that we will not see the outcome unless the costs are exorbitant.
Let us look at the costs of aviation. A 747-400 airliner costs well in advance of £100 million, and even more modest aircraft cost tremendous sums. The daily cost of keeping an aircraft inactive is also very high. At the moment, the airline industry feels slightly battered by the costs that have been imposed by government, and this is an area where we could have formed a degree of coalition, if I may use the word, between the interests of airports, staff, passengers—we are the victims when aircraft are delayed—and the airlines themselves. I am sorry if the experiment will not be completed because there are powerful arguments for why it should be done. If not, how are we going to provide an equivalent over the coming period because, as sadly we have heard today, the problems associated with airport security are not going to go away?
My Lords, I had not intended to intervene on this amendment, but I will say two things. First, I suspect that a report before Parliament might be an unnecessary expense, but I hope that people will look at the experiences from it and incorporate them into future policies. Having heard what noble Lords have said, there seems to be confusion between nailing down a particular name or body to an identity card, and security. The trouble is that one does not know when someone goes bad. There can be a complete dissociation between issuing a pass to someone and them committing a crime. One has to go on checking whether someone has gone bad. Possession of a particular identity token does not show that someone is okay.
On the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Brett, a lot of work is going on on the interoperability of identity systems. That is the way forward. There is a body of work going on from EURIM, which is an offshoot of the parliamentary group PITCOM. It is an interesting area. The problem is that different organisations vet people for different purposes. It may be totally safe to entrust someone with the secrets of the country, but you might not want them to babysit your children—and vice versa. I note that the noble Lord is laughing. I am citing extremes here to highlight the fact that someone may be perfectly all right working in airside security, but quite dangerous in a totally different situation. We must be careful not to confuse these things and not to think that possession of a nailed-down identity card or token that shows you have been given a certain name proves that you are okay. That is the underlying problem. We should move forward, looking at the interoperability of identity systems, so that if we have to take engineers from somewhere else, we know whom we can rely on and what it is safe for them to do, and can work out how to get them through quickly. I suspect that the bigger problem is the bureaucracy involved in issuing these things. People think that that is the clever place, but it is not.
My Lords, those arguing for this amendment have made a case based on the value of these cards to airport security. I will say straightaway that there is nothing between the Government, the Opposition and other Members of the House on the importance of airport security. That should not stand between us. Would these cards really be valuable? The noble Earl, Lord Erroll, made a point that I would otherwise have made. A card will give you an indication of a person's identity. It does not tell you whether they are a fit and proper person to conduct security operations at an airport. That must be done separately. It involves checking. You have to check somebody's record. You have to do this not only when you employ them, but on a continuing basis. A good deal of the burden—the burdensome part of the burden—is not relieved by the existence of a card supplied by government.
Secondly, there is a philosophical difference between this side of the House and the other on the question of databases. We believe that it is wise and democratic to distribute information, and that information should be given by individuals for the purpose for which it should be used. One way of doing that is to specify the purpose. We have no embarrassment in saying that the issuing of identity cards, and the drawing up of an identity procedure, to enable somebody, under supervision, to have access to sensitive parts of the airport, should be done on the basis of relevant information given to those who will then operate the security system. It is neither necessary nor desirable for the Government to have more than 50 pieces of information on a central database that itself is a honey pot in order to perform these functions.
We are not impressed by the argument that this will relieve airports of some of the task of putting together a valid ID card. ID cards for airports already exist. We know that they have to exist, that they will continue to exist and that airports will issue them. We shall ensure that they are used according to stringent procedures. The card does not itself guarantee security at an airport. It must be associated with procedures that tie down access as well as ensuring that the individual who has access is a fit person.
We come to the question of what the value would be of evaluating the scheme, which has not been in existence for even a year and which is now ending. I asked for a calculation to be made. We reckoned that it would cost more than £100,000. We do not think that that is a sensible use of money. I entirely agree that we should look to see whether the existing scheme gave advantage, and draw the lessons from that, but we do not believe that it is necessary or desirable to have the formal evaluation which had been provided for in the legislation at the cost that would be incurred. I therefore propose that the amendment be withdrawn.
I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate: my noble friend Lord Brett, with his expert knowledge of systems at airports; the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, for the points that he made; and, of course, the Minister, for her response. This proposal does not depend on whether it, in the end, improves airport security or not. We certainly think that it cannot do any harm, to put it at its mildest, and probably has some positive effects. Obviously, on its own, an ID card system of this kind is nowhere near enough; of course there has to be continued checking, as the noble Baroness said in her response. We accept all that. I am not sure that her point about a philosophical difference between the two sides carries very much water. We are arguing that you can put security on one side, if you want, for the moment; we are talking about an attempt to save hard-pressed businesses costs and a degree of effort that they do not otherwise have to use. This is a very important industry for this country, and if anything can help to save legitimate costs, expenditure and time, I would argue that it is the duty of government to look carefully at it.
What is Amendment 5 intended to do? It states that the trial should continue for a longer period and that, at the end of it, the Secretary of State shall lay before both Houses of Parliament a report on,
“the outcome of the trial use of ID cards for airside workers”,
“the measures the Secretary of State proposes to implement arising from it”.
It obviously does not find favour with the Government, but I would be interested to know what they intend to do with the information that has been gleaned from the six months of the trial. As the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, said, no doubt there were some benefits to be gained and it would be useful for the future to know what they might be.
I find it difficult to understand how that could possibly cost £100,000, bearing in mind that the cards have already been given out free. What would be the costs of carrying on the trial? I find that hard to understand.
As the noble Lord said, there may be lessons to be learnt, and I, too, should be interested to know them. He described what the new clause does. I think that I am right to say that, implicitly, it requires the continuance of the register until the end of the process described here. It seems to me that that must follow. The noble Lord has not referred to it, but the two go so closely hand in hand that I assume that that is the case. Perhaps he could confirm that or correct me.
I am not sure whether the register would have to continue or not. The data would continue to be collected and we would see at the end of the period whether the trial had made life easier and more secure for those who have to run our airports. I take the noble Baroness's point; I know that it is an essential part of the Government's case that the register should be closed at the earliest possible moment. I suggest that the effect of having an identity card as passport might be to make it possible to get the information that would be of assistance.
I see that the Government are not attracted by the wording of the amendment. I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for her response, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 5 withdrawn.
Clause 3 : Destruction of information recorded in National Identity Register
6: Clause 3, page 2, line 17, after “Register” insert “or under its control”
My Lords, I will speak to this quite briefly. Clause 3 is about the destruction of information recorded in the national register. It is of paramount importance that that be done without let or hindrance, so that at the end of the destruction process everyone is satisfied that there are no loose ends. This is a probing amendment, because I am not entirely sure that the wording of Clause 3 is comprehensive. Of course, I am not privy to the complex arrangements that are no doubt being considered about how the destruction process will proceed. However, we must be absolutely sure that all the data on the national information register are destroyed, including data that are stored or co-stored elsewhere, because, in the process of unrolling this massive scheme, a great deal of information went out to various contractors.
The amendment would add the words “or under its control” at the end of the sentence:
“The Secretary of State must ensure that all the information recorded in the National Identity Register”.
It is designed to catch any information that derives from the register and exists beyond its boundaries in order to ensure that it is wholly and irretrievably destroyed. I would be grateful if the Minister would confirm that such contracts as do exist ensure that the Government can, in pursuance of Clause 3, make sure that any information held elsewhere is destroyed, and that they have the right to check that that is the case. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, as does the Joint Committee on Human Rights. On page 3 of its summary, the Joint Committee states:
“Clause 3 of the Bill requires the Secretary of State to destroy all information recorded in the NIR within two months of the Bill receiving Royal Assent. We recommend that Clause 3 be amended to ensure that not only information held on the NIR but all other information collected in connection with the NIR be destroyed in line with the requirements of the Data Protection Act 1998, and without delay”.
I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips.
My Lords, although there are different views about the ID scheme—as we identified in our earlier debates—clearly there is a general understanding among all noble Lords that, given that the ID card scheme will be scrapped if the legislation is passed, the destruction of the data needs to occur properly and efficiently. I agree with the spirit of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. The question is, what is the best way to achieve the desirable policy outcome? Clearly, destruction must be thorough, transparent and successful in order to provide sufficient public confidence in the process. Those whose data are held on the national identity register deserve reassurance that their personal information has been destroyed to an acceptable standard.
I was grateful to the Minister for saying at Second Reading that the Government were committed to producing a Written Statement to Parliament on the event of the destruction of the data contained in the national identity register. It is absolutely right, and I welcome the fact, that the Government will report on the process and delivery of the destruction of the data. However, given the report of the Joint Committee and the comments of the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, and given that it is such a sensitive area, it would be helpful if that were to be made a statutory requirement. In reporting to Parliament, the Government should specify what data have been destroyed, the process involved and the standard by which destruction occurred. I recognise that the Minister is having a tough day with the Statement as well as this Committee, but it would be helpful if she were able to give a little more information in respect of that.
I would also like to follow the noble Lord’s amendment and its implication. Will the Minister confirm that the destruction will occur in line with the standards of the Data Protection Act 1998 to ensure that the process is recognised as being fully comprehensive? On Report in the other place, the Minister, Mr Damian Green, revealed that the Government were in contact with the Information Commissioner’s Office about the destruction process. As part of the Government’s stated wish to ensure transparency and openness about the physical destruction process, will the Minister consider making available communications with the Information Commissioner as soon as possible and, at the very least, include this information in the report that the amendment calls for?
Finally, Clause 3 requires destruction of data within two months of Royal Assent. I would be grateful to have confirmation from the noble Baroness that the Government are confident that that deadline can be met.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, for the time that he has taken to discuss this aspect of the Bill with the Bill team. His experienced views on these matters were very much appreciated. The best thing that I can do to reassure the Committee is to describe what we are going to do. I ask noble Lords to forgive me if that takes a moment or two. The national identity register is a generic term applied to the process of collecting and storing personal biographical and biometric data on ID card applications. At the moment, the core database is maintained in secure conditions on behalf of the Identity and Passport Service by its main contractors. Data held for dealing with applications, for subject access requests or for marketing purposes are similarly held in secure conditions by IPS staff and by contractors, such as Teleperformance.
IPS and any other party which has or had access to information gathered in connection with the NIR is required to comply with data protection legislation. We certainly will ensure that that is the case throughout. IPS has adopted an active approach and has identified all sources where information recorded as part of the NIR is held. As a result of that exercise, three categories have been identified. The first is the core data where the central records for the NIR are held. Core data containing biographical and biometric data are held by contractors on secure production systems. The storage media such as hard disks and back up tapes containing the data will be physically destroyed by shredding. That shredding process will comply with requirements for destroying secret data set out in Her Majesty's Government Information Assurance Standard No 5—the Secure Sanitisation of Protectively Marked or Sensitive Information. This category represents by far the largest element in the destruction process.
Secondly, I shall deal with data extracted from the NIR to write to cardholders, to deal with subject access requests or to obtain management information such as age or gender. As things stand, the IPS is continuing to explore options to remove the data from the backup storage tapes, but it may be that this can be achieved only at significant operational risk to the business. This data will be deleted from all systems and when the equipment holding the data reaches the end of its life, it will be cleared down using Government procedures for decommissioning restricted equipment. This means that the files will not be capable of being recovered.
Thirdly, I turn to personal data associated with an application for an ID card but not extracted from the NIR. This includes data collected, for example, from the outsource company Teleperformance, which is used by IPS to deal with inquiries and interview bookings for applicants. As with the second category, this data will be deleted from all systems, and when the equipment holding the data reaches the end of its life, it will be cleared down using the procedures I have just mentioned. Again, this means that the files will not be capable of being recovered. I will make available in the Library a paper prepared by IPS on the destruction process. This sets out in considerable detail the work undertaken by IPS and the work required to comply with the provisions of the Bill.
As has been mentioned, IPS has been in touch with the Information Commissioner’s Office about the proposed arrangements. The ICO has indicated that all relevant areas have been considered. I understand that the Committee will be interested to see that correspondence, and I suggest that the right place for it is in the report to the House in order to ensure that transparency is maintained. Clearly, we will want to satisfy the commissioner that the destruction process has been completed, and verifiably so.
I mentioned during earlier consideration that the Minister with responsibility for immigration had informed the other place that a Written Ministerial Statement would be made to Parliament on completion of the destruction process. I should like to confirm that, and I have also said that today I will place a copy of the destruction process in the Library. We want to be entirely open about what we are doing and have already shared what we are doing with the Information Commissioner’s Office. We will publish the details which, I can assure the Committee, will comply with data protection requirements.
We feel sure that the destruction process will conform to the higher standards. In the light of my response and particularly the assurances I have given about the action that has already been undertaken, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for giving us such a comprehensive description of the process that is now in train, and I am sure that it will reassure a lot of people. I must confess that I did not understand half of it, but when I get around to reading it for the seventh time, I might do so. However, what I could not quite gather from her reply is this. She did not say that she objects to my suggested additional words, and it seems that adding them would do no more than what is being done. Given that it is such an important process, I would have hoped that, on further consideration, the matter could be resolved by agreement before we reach the next stage. On that basis, I thank all those who have taken part in the discussion, particularly the noble Countess, Lady Mar, for repeating an appropriate extract from the response of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. I am content to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 6 withdrawn.
Amendment 7 not moved.
Clause 3 agreed.
Amendment 8 not moved.
Clause 4: Possession of false identity documents etc with improper intention
9: Clause 4, page 2, line 32, at end insert “(with the exception, in the case of a document within subsection (1)(c), of the individual to whom it relates)”
This group of amendments—Amendments 9, 10 and 11, in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, as well as mine—is partly probing and certainly simplifying. When I read Clause 4, I found myself completely baffled by quite a bit of it, especially subsection (3). Being a bit of an old lawyer warhorse, I just kept at it. I read it and reread it and I concluded that anyone suffering from insomnia should put subsection (3) by the side of the bed for 2 o'clock in the morning. If you read subsection (3) six times, I almost guarantee sleep. I shall read it for the sake of Hansard. It states:
“In subsection (2)(b) the reference to P or anyone else does not include, in the case of a document within subsection (1)(c), the individual to whom it relates”.
I may be getting daft—I notice assenting groans from the noble Lord, Lord Bach—but I have tried in these amendments to clarify what that means. I am encouraged to do that because I am following Clause 4(2)(b) in the Identity Cards Act. I suspect that the parliamentary draftsman was trying to make things clearer by pulling out subsection (3) rather than allowing the sense of it to follow on from Clause 4(2)(b).
In Clause 4(2)(a) and (b), we have a definition of what is called improper intention. That definition is, I think—and I have consulted the very helpful Bill team, and they agree—exhaustive of what improper intention is for the purpose of this very important clause. I do not see that paragraphs (a) and (b) are exhaustive of improper intention sufficient to base a prosecution under Clause 4(1). I am anxious that there should not be events of dishonesty around identity documents—the holding of them or whatever else. I do not want there to be loopholes where some clever barrister can say, “This may have been a dishonest act by my client but it is not within Clause 4(2)”.
My Amendment 10 would add a further paragraph which reads as follows:
“the intention of using or allowing or inducing another to use a document for any dishonest purpose”—
for any dishonest purpose. I cannot see why that much broader subsection can be offensive to the purport of the clause. Indeed, it may be argued—the noble Baroness may shortly argue—that my subsection renders superfluous paragraphs (a) and (b). If so, we have knocked out two paragraphs for the sake of one. On my reckoning, that is good going.
In another life, I was for 26 years Jimmy Young's legal eagle, trying to explain to the baffled British public a little bit about the law of our land. If the amendments do anything to make it a bit clearer, I think that that is a job worth doing. I beg to move.
My Lords, I put my name to these amendments because I, too, had read the clause and got myself into complete confusion, so I thought that anything had to be better. I started trying to unravel this in my mind, and given that this challenge fell on a sleepless night, I thought that it might be quite interesting to try it.
What the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, has just said is true. The essence of it all is there is no point in having these laws if you cannot actually catch people. If we leave a loophole here, there is no point to a lot of the Bill. People will possess false identity documents and we will not be able to lock them up or punish them for it, and what is the point of the whole exercise if we cannot? It is critical that we get this clause right.
I read the amendment with interest. I thought that if I put some plain English in, that might help. I worked out that if person P, who is basically the crook, nicks my driving licence, which is covered by the wording Clause 4(1)(c),
“an identity document that relates to someone else”—
in other words, it relates to me—we then have to look at what he uses it for. On the question of “improper intention”, I was interested by the word “establishing”, and I would like an answer about that. Clause 4(2)(a) talks about,
“using the document for establishing personal information”.
Does that mean that, having grabbed my passport or driving licence, person P, in impersonating me, is trying to get information about himself on to the database so that he can establish and build up a false identity on the database that will take over my identity,? In other words, is he changing my address to his own, and things like that? If he sticks to driving licences, that is probably easier in the first instance because the checks are lower.
That is what the word “establishing” could mean, but equally it could be used in the other sense of person P ringing up to check that it is indeed my address. I do not know which way round “establishing” is meant. Is it active or passive? Is the crook pushing or pulling the information? That ambiguity could be dangerous. The word may be meant both ways, but lots of people are allowed to establish my personal details. A policeman, for example, needs to do so when he stops me and finds out whether mine is a genuine address. I do not know which way round the word is meant.
Then we come to the next bit, Clause 4(2)(b), which says that the crook can use the document to try to verify personal information about himself. Why would the crook want to verify personal information about himself? It is not personal information about the crook if he has established a new identity for me; it is actually personal information about a fictional person who appears to have my identity. I can see that we are going to have great fun about what is “personal information” with regard to a stolen identity.
So, we get into the little problem about verifying the personal identity of a person who does not exist, but then we come to Clause 4(3). I rewrote this myself to say that the actions detailed in subsection (2)(b) are not an improper use if my driving licence—the identity document mentioned in subsection (1)(c)—is used by the crook, person P, to verify my personal information, the person to whom it relates. In other words, it says that the crook can use that document to find out information about me. Okay, big deal. I do not see why that is so dodgy. That is the one exception that does not matter one way or the other. If that is not the case, I am not really sure what subsection (3) means and I would love to know, but that, after a lot of tortuous back and forth and rewriting, is what I arrived at.
The only other thing that occurred to me just now about improper intentions is that it is an improper intention,
“to have in P’s possession or under P’s control”.
This is where the matter becomes critical, because I know that the word “possession” has huge implications in law. You are in possession of a car if you have the car keys, from the point of view of drunk driving, whether you have an intention of using those car keys or not. If someone else has your shotgun but does not hold a certificate, and they drive 100 yards to get it back to your house because you have just fallen ill and have to go to hospital, they are in possession of that shotgun at that point without a proper certificate. So, if someone takes your driving licence off you in order to verify something about you, they are in possession of your driving licence at that point. I do not know if there are any issues around that, but as I was reading this I suddenly started thinking, “Hang on, we’ve got possession issues here as well”.
The whole thing is a ghastly muddle, and anything that could be done to sort it out would be better. Hence I back the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury.
My Lords, sitting between the Cross Benches and my noble friend’s Liberal Democrats, I have to confess that the difference between myself and them is that whereas they could not understand the Bill as it was originally written, I cannot understand it now that it has been rewritten by them. I grew up on childhood problems which involved Mr Black, Mr Brown, Mr Green and Mr White who lived in houses that were—but not necessarily respectively—green, white, brown and black. Then you were given a certain amount of information and you had to decide who was living in the right house. All I can say is that the Minister now constitutes my road to sanity because if she can explain what the original Bill meant and why this measure does not improve it, at least I shall sleep at night.
My Lords, some of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, and the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, are interesting. Those are the points that I understood. Other points were made which—through my own ignorance, not their failure to explain them—I could not fully understand. I am extremely grateful that I am not left with the hapless task of having to respond to them. No doubt when we have heard the Minister’s response, we will find out the validity or otherwise of the points that have been made. For people such as myself who are not lawyers and who do not profess to understand some fairly obscure wording, will the Minister please give the reasons why she is not accepting the amendments in a layman’s terms, not a lawyer’s? If she is accepting them, presumably there is no problem in that regard.
My Lords, may I return to the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights? It says, in relation to Clauses 4, 5 and 6:
“The practical use of these offences could engage the right to private life and we call on the Government to provide Parliament with a more detailed justification of why these offences are necessary and an explanation of what conduct is criminalised by these offences that is not already caught by existing legislation”.
I hope that the Minister will respond to that point as well.
My Lords, speaking as a non-lawyer, I hope that I may be able to give the noble Lord some comfort on this amendment. We certainly recognise that the intention of these amendments is to bring clarity to what might otherwise seem complex provisions of the Bill. As your Lordships will be aware, the provisions in Clause 4 re-enact the Identity Cards Act 2006. As the purpose of the Bill is to scrap the ID card scheme and destroy the NIR, that gives rise to questions about how we describe these offences and where we put them. However, law enforcement remains important. Last year, there were 3,000 convictions for offences under the 2006 Act. That is a significant number of successful prosecutions and the powers that are being re-enacted are being used on a daily basis by the police and other enforcement agencies and provide important operational tools to tackle fraud-related offences, so we are anxious to ensure that the law remains effective in this respect.
We do not see great benefit in considering amendments that are aimed at improving the clarity of the legislation which is successfully applied in the investigative and judicial enforcement stages of the criminal justice system. ACPO fully supports the retention of the existing powers. However—this is where I come to the next set of issues—we do not believe that everything should stand still. While re-enacting the provisions to maintain the effectiveness of tackling fraud, the coalition Government have undertaken to review the number of offences on the statute book and to consider the scope for repeal. Therefore, we are on the same track as noble Lords in wanting to ensure the appropriateness of the offences and the powers to ensure their enforcement.
Over this autumn, we will look at whether these offences should stand alone, or whether they can be accommodated within existing offences under fraud and counterfeiting legislation. I am aware that the offences in the Act derive in some part from the paper issued in 2004 by the previous Administration, entitled Fraud Law Reform: Consultation on Proposals for Legislation. We will examine the common ground, or overlap, that exists between the Identity Cards Act and other legislation to see if there is scope for simplification and rationalisation of the offences. I hope that this answers the noble Lord’s point. We will undertake that work this autumn alongside colleagues in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It may be that in the end we decide that the offences should remain in place; but possibly they could be combined with others. Clearly there is an operational need for them, so the issue is how they are best described and where they are best placed.
While Amendments 9 and 11, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, do not change the meaning of that provision, Amendment 10 does, because the effect is to widen the scope of the offence so that it is no longer limited—here, perhaps, there is a substantive disagreement—to the use of cards to establish aspects of the person’s identity. The common factor in relation to all documents listed in Clause 7(1) is that they may be used as identity documents. It is the improper use of these documents as identity documents that the offence is targeting—nothing beyond that. Other dishonest uses to which the documents may be put are likely to be covered by other legislation. We are not neglecting the issue, but we do not see it as relevant to the Bill.
Obviously, this legislation is to get rid of the ID card system. In view of our intention to look at the law enforcement aspects and related offences, and bearing in mind in the mean time the need for these powers, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment. I have no doubt that, in consideration of how we deal with these offences in future, his help and views will be greatly appreciated.
Would it be possible later to have a written explanation of what Clause 4(3) means? I am sure that I read it wrongly and it would be interesting to find out. Also, I do not know what “establishing” means in this context, and it would be nice to know that when I am asked by other people.
My Lords, Clause 4(3) excludes the scenario where a person uses another’s card to establish personal information about the other person. It would allow a carer, for example, to assist an elderly relative by using that person’s document to collect a parcel or avail themselves of a service on behalf of that person. In other words, that is a perfectly proper intention—what is intended to be excluded is improper intention. The term “establishing” could have two meanings, as suggested. It could mean proving certain facts, or finding out certain facts.
My Lords, the Minister has—I nearly said “dealt manfully”, but that would not be right—dealt with her usual sophisticated aplomb with this impossible matter. One wonders whether, for a provision in a Bill such as this, our methods are adequate. I suspect that if one could have a conversation, one might get further. In moving the amendment, I thought that I made it clear that Amendments 9 and 11 do not alter to the meaning of that provision, but just make clearer—
I am grateful for that, but I shall still come back to the point. The noble Baroness said that Clause 4 is a re-enactment of the provision in the Identity Cards Act 2006. This part of the clause diverges from the 2006 Act in a seriously unhelpful way. The changes mean that there has been a shift into subsection (3) of the language that is there. The noble Baroness did her best to explain it, but all I can do is to go back to the 2006 Act, which is better and clearer on the point. In withdrawing the amendment, I would ask the noble Baroness if she would think a little more about it before we come to the next stage.
I want to make one other point. The noble Baroness made the important point that my attempt to create in Amendment 10 through proposed new paragraph (c) a catch-all provision in terms of the definition of improper intention was unnecessary. However, she was less than categorical. I would be comforted if she and her advisers would put their thinking caps on and make sure that that is the case. I ask that because I am still worried that paragraphs (a) and (b), which provide the exhaustive definition of improper intention, would not catch circumstances where the Government would wish there to be an offence in terms of the possession of false identity documents. However, as I say, we are all reassured by the review that is to be undertaken in what is a very difficult field.
It may assist the Committee at the next of the stage of the Bill if I say that subsection (3), which the Government may look at again, is probably otiose. It is only an offence for person P, with improper intention, to have in P’s possession. The defence just stated was “not with improper intention”. A carer trying to collect a parcel has no improper intention. It means that either we have “improper intention” wrong or subsection (3) is otiose. I still believe that this should be taken back so that people can think about it.
The part of the noble Baroness’s argument that I found conclusive was that this clause reproduces existing offences, so I relaxed after that. But my noble friend has been diligent in looking back at the 2006 Act and, indeed, as he says, it is different. If the Government are concerned—I support them entirely in this—not to undermine what has been established through case law, then I think that the Committee would be interested to learn the reasons for the changes. This clause is noticeably shorter than the section in the 2006 Act. If there has been a well-intentioned effort to compress it, quite apart from the confusion that I too have been caused, there are dangers inherent in changing the language, in however minute a fashion.
Amendment 9 withdrawn.
Amendments 10 and 11 not moved.
Clause 4 agreed.
Clause 5 agreed.
12: After Clause 5, insert the following new Clause—
(1) The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a report on the impact of the repeal of the Identity Cards Act 2006 on combating identity fraud and the lessons learnt from the operation of the identity cards scheme.
(2) The Secretary of State must lay the report before Parliament within one year of the coming into force of this Act.”
My Lords, the contribution of the Minister in the previous debate has provided a purpose for putting down this probing amendment and, possibly, a small part of the answer. I do not think that anyone would argue the point that identity fraud is increasing. It is very troublesome for those who are victims of it, as well as for retailers and those in business who are misled into dealing with people who are not the genuine persons with whom they believed that they were dealing. The previous Government believed that the ID card was a valuable tool in that regard.
I was moved to put down this amendment by a case which shows that the identity card has great value; that is, for a person whose identity has been stolen. A colleague of mine moved flats. Someone collected the mail that was delivered later, stole the identity of the person concerned and purchased a cell phone or such like. The case was investigated, which took time and trouble, and it was resolved—except that the person was not caught. Time and again during the next two years, he or she continued to use that identity. On each occasion—whether a retailer or a utility company was involved—my colleague had great trouble going through all the rigmarole of proving her identity by supplying documentation from a number of sources. The identity card would have proved simply who she was for the benefit of anyone involved and for her own peace of mind.
We can argue the degree to which the ID card was of value in fraud detection, but I do not think that we can say that it would not have been of great help in this case of identity fraud. We know that the National Fraud Authority and our national intelligence bodies, under Home Office supervision, are looking at some form of national strategy. I presume—no doubt the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—that that is part of the review of which she spoke. This amendment seeks a commitment from the Government to tackle the growing crime of identity fraud; to evaluate, in the absence of having the identity card, what other measures need to be put in place; to learn the lessons; and to report to Parliament. That would provide, in time, a review that we can meaningfully look at in relation to what we know the identity card could have provided; and, more importantly, in its absence, to the alternatives.
It is always terrible to have your house broken into: you feel violated. It has happened again and again to this individual and it got to the stage where her health was really suffering. If nothing happened this week, her fear was that it would happen the next week. Each time it happened was that much worse. I believe that in this case, an ID card of the kind that we have in law would have helped the victim considerably. More importantly, as the Minister said, the central purpose of the legislation before us is to remove ID cards. I seek the assurances set out in this amendment, if not in the form in which they are written then at least in terms of the spirit and intention behind them.
My Lords, Amendment 19 is in my name and that of the noble Earl, Lord Erroll. The provision is covered by Clauses 22 and 23 of the Identity Cards Act. The only difference is that that constitutes 60 lines of legislation, with 14 subsections, whereas my amendment is infinitely more modest. I would like to think that its modesty and open-textured nature is a plus and not a minus. I well appreciate that the dismantling of the identity card scheme is not the same as its creation. Some may think that this is superfluous and that it is enough to rely on the statements that the Minister has made about what the Government may do. I take a cautious view about that. With issues of citizens’ basic rights, it is incumbent on us as legislators to be cautious. I also have in mind the fact that the noble Baroness is here today but may be gone tomorrow.
Of course, to higher and greater things. It is notorious in our system that Ministers remain in post for less than two years, and that one Minister does not feel bound by the statements of another. If anyone doubts that, I can give them half a dozen chapters and verses now. Therefore, the soft soap, even from the mouth of as distinguished a Minister as the noble Baroness, is not enough where one is dealing with issues of citizens’ basic rights. For this side of the House, and no less for Members opposite, the destruction of the national identity register is a crucial matter. If ever there was a situation where somebody beyond the Minister is needed to give reassurance that what has to be done has been properly done, this is it.
Subsection (2) of the proposed new clause requires the independent person appointed to review the arrangements to make an annual report of his or her findings not just to the Secretary of State but also contemporaneously to Parliament. That ensures that the absence of specifics in the proposed new clause is adequate, because any independent reviewer, because they know that they have to report to Parliament as well as to the Secretary of State, will be on their mettle.
I finish by saying that this deals in the Bill with a number of anxieties expressed by the Joint Committee on Human Rights when it reported in October. For example, it stated that,
“the Government should report to Parliament on the progress towards the destruction of this information and the decommissioning of the NIR”.
It says that “the Government” should report. However, as I have attempted to justify, it should go a step further. The committee made other recommendations, particularly with regard to Clause 10, which entitles the Secretary of State to require verification information from not only a long list of government bodies, but from others; and, in subsection (10), gives discretion to the Secretary of State to disapply subsections (8) and (9). Subsection (8) requires that information in relation to passports should be destroyed no later than 28 days after the passport is issued. Subsection (9) contains another provision related to that. The clause gives discretion to the Secretary of State to disapply those subsections where he or she thinks it is “desirable” for the purposes of preventing or detecting crime and so on. That is fair enough, provided there is an independent reviewer who can look at that and make sure that no slackness has entered the system, and that any use of the discretions in the clause has been sensible and justifiable.
Finally, the Joint Committee expressed concern about the proportionality of some of the rights given to the Secretary of State by the Bill. For those reasons, I commend Amendment 19, and the inclusion of an independent review in the Bill. I beg to move.
I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, will forgive me. The Committee is considering Amendment 12, and Amendment 19 is grouped with it. I assume that what the noble Lord is doing is speaking to his amendment, not moving it.
I thought we had leapt ahead of ourselves for a moment; it was great. I also put my name down to Amendment 19 because it is always important to have independent scrutiny. It makes people feel much happier and much safer. I do not see that in this case it needs to be very expensive; you do not need a huge office, a huge outside body or anything like that. Public confidence can otherwise be destroyed. Sometimes things go wrong, so it feels much happier having external independent scrutiny. We forget that at our peril.
Having someone reporting up the same chain of command to the same boss is never quite the same as getting a report straight out to Parliament. On something like this, which potentially involves civil liberties and citizens’ rights, it is very important to have a direct report to Parliament, which is outside the normal chain of command, just in case. It is not that I mistrust any of the people in the system; they are trying to do a good job under difficult circumstances, particularly as the politics of it are shifting and changing on a monthly basis. There is no bad will on my part. Rather, we should always do this as a matter of principle, and it is dangerous to start not doing it.
Something the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, read out reminded me of the phrase in RIPA,
“for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime”.
That was the general-purpose provision that was slotted into RIPA. We were told that the Act would apply only to serious and organised crime but it ended up with local councils using it for other things. At that point, everyone realised that we had a political problem on our hands because uses can change. There could be similar issues buried within the Bill that I remember noticing when I first went through it but then forgot about.
My Lords, I want to speak to my noble friend Lord Brett’s amendment as well as to the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, and the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, which seem to raise a different issue. Primarily, though, I shall address my comments to the issue of identity fraud, which is raised in my noble friend’s amendment.
I think that it was on Second Reading that my noble friend Lord Bach pointed out that ID fraud is one of the UK’s fastest growing crimes, with nearly 2 million people a year falling victim to it and it costing the country some £2.7 billion. A huge proportion of people are affected; more than nine out of 10 people in the UK consider themselves to be at risk from identity fraud.
Minimising the paper trail of one’s identity details is an important part of facing up to the threat of fraud, and ID cards helped to do that, as the evidence that was presented in another place by the representative from the Manchester Airport group and the comments made today by my noble friend Lord Brett have indicated. The ID card scheme, of course, did not provide a panacea when it came to addressing identity fraud. The cards offered some help in that area, and we feel it is important that that is acknowledged, but with regard to, for example, identity fraud committed online, the ID card did not offer added security.
My noble friend’s amendment calls on the Government to produce a report on the lessons learnt for tackling identity fraud from the ID card scheme and its cancellation. It is interesting to refer back to the evidence given by the representative from the Manchester Airport Group to the committee in another place. I draw attention once again to points that he made. He said that the benefit that they got from the system was that they were absolutely sure that the person who was standing in the pass office was the right person. He was asked by committee members whether it might have been possible to achieve some of the benefits by other means—which is also important in relation to the amendment—for example, by using passports. He said that, yes, that was something that they would like to hold on to, but added:
“At the moment we are not getting very positive indications that that would be possible, but we will keep pushing”.
Later, he was asked whether he was saying that some of the innovative ideas in the identity card scheme could be replicated using the passport database or something similar. He said:
“I believe that if there is a will to do that, yes, we can. At the moment we are not actually feeling that will, but I believe that it is possible”.—[Official Report, Commons, Identity Documents Bill Committee, 29/6/10; cols. 29-30.]
Those observations suggest that there would be real benefit in having a report on the impact on combating identity fraud of the repeal—as that is the intention—of the Identity Cards Act 2006. The comments made in that evidence certainly suggested that the scheme had benefits, but that some of them might be achieved in other ways if it was scrapped. It is a case of looking not just at what may have been lost but at whether the benefits which were worth keeping, particularly relating to identity fraud, could continue to be achieved by other means. Reference was made in the evidence to the use of the passport database.
At page 7, paragraph 15 the impact assessment states:
“For Government and business, the benefits were expected to derive from simpler, quicker business processes and reduced cost of identity related fraud. However, the realisation of benefits depends very strongly upon high take-up rates for the card, because these are the key to engaging public and private sector organisations in offering card-based services”.
The point has been made that there was not a very high take-up; the system had only just come in. However, in the Government’s impact assessment there is a clear recognition that the identity card scheme could produce benefits for government and business by reducing the cost of identity-related fraud. Once again, that would seem to be an argument for the Minister to accept the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Brett, which simply calls for a report on the impact of the repeal of the Act on combating identity fraud.
The noble Baroness told the House on Second Reading that an action plan was being developed by the National Fraud Authority and the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, following their strategic threat assessment of the harm impact of identity crime, and that that was being overseen by the Home Office. If there is an exercise or if an action plan is already in the process of being drawn up, it is surely not irrelevant to look at the impact of the repeal of the Identity Cards Act 2006 on combating identity fraud and the lessons learnt from the operation of the scheme. Once again, I say, particularly given some of the evidence presented in the other place and the statement in the Government's impact assessment, that there would have been benefits in relation to identity fraud—albeit that of course I accept that the document said that that would relate to a high take-up of the cards.
Can the Minister tell us any more about the action plan—obviously, not the details of what is in it but the progress being made, what it might involve and when we might hear more about it? I also take this opportunity to ask whether, as part of the action plan, the Government are following the rollout of the new generation of identity documentation in Germany, which will include the radio frequency identity chip—which, as I understand it, will facilitate secure online transactions. At least, that is the theory; whether it does in practice is presumably something that still must be seen. Does the Minister think that anything can be learnt from that new technology to address the very serious problem, which everybody recognises, of identity fraud?
I hope that the Minister will feel able to accept these amendments. My comments are mainly related to the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Brett, as clearly everyone has an interest in devoting the maximum resources and the maximum amount of information gained from operating other relevant schemes to trying to combat identity fraud.
My Lords, I am not normally in favour of reports being put before Parliament. We have far too many reports and most of them lie unread on dusty shelves. The argument put forward about identity fraud is a question of proportionality. I understand that a very high proportion of identity fraud—up to 90 per cent—is internet fraud, although I am not exactly sure of the figure. Identity cards would do nothing to prevent that. However, I support the call for a report to be made to Parliament in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, and of the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, because of the human rights implications. I do not wish to detain the Committee for long, but those are my concerns.
My Lords, we are discussing two akin but not entirely identical amendments. I shall deal with them separately. The substantive point that is being made concerns the importance of combating fraud and identity fraud. I say straight away to noble Lords that the Government take fraud and identity fraud extremely seriously. The noble Lord opposite quoted something that I said relatively recently in the House. That reflects the Government’s preoccupation with organised crime generally, and particularly with fraud and identity fraud. I assure the Committee that this is being pursued with purposive intent and as speedily as possible. We need to get a good strategy together but we are hoping to publish a cybercrime strategy that goes to the heart of these issues by the end of the year. Therefore, there is no lack of purpose and attention being given to what we entirely agree is a very important issue that poses a growing threat to the prosperity of this country if it is not tackled effectively. Of course, it also has national security implications. I think that the issue which divides us is the question of whether the Bill is the right way to tackle that. I cannot see that what is proposed would greatly add to our knowledge but it would certainly add to complexity and cost.
The purpose of Amendment 12 is to hold the Government to account for something that will no longer exist. It would require resources to be committed to determining, in effect, why ID cards were not successful. However, the offences relating to identity fraud are being re-enacted; we are not letting them drop. The impact of identity fraud will continue to be monitored through the crime statistics. We are pursuing the evil of identity fraud in government policy. We therefore consider that we are on the case, but we are against the setting up of yet a further quango to monitor it. There is nothing between us on the importance of the issue but we do not think that this is the right vehicle with which to pursue it; it would add complexity but not value.
On the other amendment, we are similarly concerned about the implications because again this proposal would add to the bureaucracy on how the Government report on offences within the existing passport process. The proposals would involve the creation of a new post to oversee arrangements for the use and retention of data in connection with passport applications. I have to say that we already have the Office of the Information Commissioner. The IPS, like any other organisation, is required to comply with data protection. It is also required to comply with the provisions of the Bill when it is enacted and is subject to the rigours of government audit procedures. This Government have undertaken to report in detail to Parliament on all the processes.
I am sorry to interrupt the Minister’s flow. She has just made an important statement, which is that the Information Commissioner has a duty. The question is whether the duty of the Information Commissioner extends to the Government dismantling the national identity register. If it does, most of my concerns will go away. Can the Minister assure me of that?
The Information Commissioner needs to be satisfied that the destruction process has been proper, thorough and complete. That is why we are in touch with the Information Commissioner. We really do not see the need for yet another layer of oversight that could get in the way of the exercise of his functions. In fact, it would duplicate what he is already charged to do—effectively, I would hope.
I would also say that the Government are committed to transparency in this process. We have nothing to hide and we are absolutely committed to the citizen’s rights in the matter. While I realise that I might not last for ever—the thought of being translated to a higher place is rather worrying—nevertheless, I will say with absolute confidence that this Government, whether I am in your Lordships’ House or not, are committed to ensuring that this process is carried out properly and that there is no doubt about its integrity and thoroughness. I hope that, in the light of my comments, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, personally I am sure that the reference by the noble Baroness to a higher place was simply to a more senior position in the Government, if only because I am not sure that anyone who is a politician can hope to go to heaven.
I am disappointed with the Minister’s reply. I do not think that we are looking for bureaucracy in the amendment I have tabled. I believe that the Government are just as concerned as the previous Government were about issues of identity fraud and we know that things would have come from the identity card scheme that would have helped. However, it is not to be persevered with and we have been told that a plan is to be put together by the end of this year. The Bill requires a report to be made only within one year. I would have thought that, without too much bureaucracy, it would be possible to look at the extent to which the Bill will provide for those things that were provided for by the various parts of the Identity Cards Act, particularly in relation to individual identity fraud. We have seen that, online, someone’s identity might be used again and again.
So, I am disappointed, but I hope that between now and Report, the Minister will look at this again with her advisers. Transparency requires other people to be able to see something. In some ways, the only people who can report back with all the facts at their command, which we can then scrutinise, are the Government. Even at this stage, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to reconsider the matter. In the mean time, I shall withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 12 withdrawn.
Committee adjourned at 7.29 pm.