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House of Lords Hansard
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26 November 2015
Volume 767

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what further consideration they are giving to introducing national identity cards.

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My Lords, the Government have no plans to reintroduce identity cards for British citizens.

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My Lords, I am sorry to hear that. Nearly all European countries now have national identity cards. Germany’s latest card, which is highly secure, includes a digital photo, an electronic data function and biometric data, which can include a fingerprint. In these difficult circumstances, when identity is at the heart of our problems, should not all the political parties now reconsider their positions on the introduction of national identity cards? If other European countries can have confidence in their ID card systems, why cannot we do the same? Times are changing—the world is very different.

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The noble Lord will be aware that we have had this debate before. The decision that was taken to abolish the national identity register and identity cards, which had been introduced by the previous Labour Government, was done on two grounds: first, on cost, because it cost £85 million to run and nearly £1 billion was required to maintain the register; and secondly, in terms of effectiveness, because the very people whose identity we might want to have would be the last people in the queue to comply with the requirement for the ID card. That is not to say that we are not doing anything about that; we are simply saying that we have a different approach. We have passports and driving licences—84% of the population have passports and over 60% have driving licences—and all people who come from outside the EEA to live in the UK for a period in excess of six months are required to have a biometric permit to do so.

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My Lords, with hindsight, would it not have been better to have corrected the faults in the Labour Party proposals and put them into operation so that now we would have a system which worked? Is it not odd that we are the only country in Europe that thinks that this system without identity cards is somehow superior? Should we not learn from others just occasionally?

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Of course we learn from others, and the reality is that we have a system of photographic ID—I have mentioned lots of types, such as biometric passports, but also general passports and driving licences, which we have in this country. At a time when our principal concern is national security, we have said that we choose to spend the investment that would be required to put in place a system of ID on better equipping our security forces and better securing our borders to ensure that we can keep people secure and safe.

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My Lords, I declare an interest as the Home Secretary who introduced ID cards. I say to the Minister, and through him to noble colleagues on the Cross Benches and the Liberal Benches, that I have always been aware and am still aware of the balance between privacy and security for the nation. However, I hope in the present circumstances, which have changed considerably over the last decade—not only as regards immigration and the introduction of digital services for individuals and citizens but particularly in regard to the national security and the protection of all of our citizens in counterterrorism and the assurance that we can give that to them—that the Government will reconsider their position on this before it is too late. I welcome the fact that the Government are not averse to U-turns, including very big ones, and I hope that they will reconsider on this one; no one will score any political points, because it is now a matter of national security.

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I hear the point the noble Lord makes, which of course I would accept if it was a question of effectiveness, but our view is that it was not going to be effective, because the very people you would want to catch would be the people who would not comply. That is the reason why spending the money on better security and surveillance, better use of intelligence, the investments in national security we have announced, the improvement to the funding of the police and cybersecurity is the right way to go at the present time.

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I welcome the Minister’s statement that there will be no rethink of identity cards. Knee-jerk reactions often lead to massive expense and total inefficiency. We remember the personal interviews when people wanted to get passports—I do not know whether the Home Secretary who introduced this is in the Chamber today. That proved to be totally wrong. Will the Minister confirm that in the first four years it was introduced 1.5 million interviews took place, of which only 12 were rejected, and when it was established, that there were—

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Question!

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I will continue with my question. Can he confirm that there were 68 offices in the UK, of which 30 have been closed over the last few years? Can the Minister please tell us what the situation is with this personal interview for passports?

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A personal interview is required for all adults applying for a passport for the first time. It is an important deterrent element as well. One of the factors that is not recognised is that, in the numbers that the noble Lord quoted, there are more than 1,000 people each year who do not turn up for an interview when they are required to do so to support their passport application.

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My Lords—

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My Lords, I have only just arrived. It is the turn of the Cross Benches.

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I thank the Leader of the House. I do not see why we should not try identity cards. Those of us who drive have to carry a driving licence around with us, otherwise there are always difficulties with the police if you get stopped. I really do not know why we should not see whether it actually works. It works in other countries and why, as the noble Lord, Lord Deben, said, should we not learn from other countries and try it here?

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I hear what the noble and learned Baroness says, but the reality is that we did try this. We had a live test of this and our conclusion was that it did not work; it did not tackle the problems that we wanted it to tackle, it was very expensive and there was no compliance from the very people that we wanted to be protected from.