Motion to Take Note
My Lords, it being a Thursday afternoon, I have received many apologies from Members unable to attend this debate, for which we are all grateful. The issue of identity cards is the issue in British politics that refuses to go away; it haunts political debate. It is not that it is the unique preserve of any political party. Identity cards have wide support in both Houses of Parliament, across the political divide and in the electorate.
The Labour Government did at least try to develop a scheme. They started in 2002 with a national consultation under the heading Entitlement Cards and Identity Fraud: A Consultation Document but, following legislation, the whole programme was plagued with arguments over whether it should be a national identity card or an entitlement card. This finally led to a climbdown as it was moved from a compulsory to a voluntary scheme. The 2010 election then killed the whole programme. The national identity register, a crucial component in the scheme, was then destroyed on 10 February 2011. The personal details of everyone issued with a card under the pilots were also destroyed. We are now left with biometric residence permits for non-EEA foreign nationals, but only because Europe requires them and the system of national insurance cards is completely out of control. The coalition effectively destroyed the whole programme, leaving us exposed to an explosion in identity fraud and crime that permeates every aspect of our national life.
Nevertheless, to be fair to the Government, they have recognised the need to tackle the issue, in particular on the internet. With that in mind, the Government’s identity assurance programme, IDAP, was launched. Under the IDAP model, people assert their identities to government via a series of private sector identity providers. I understand that PayPal, Cassidian, Experian, Verizon and a number of others have at some stage been in the frame. However, although they build relationships with HMRC, PAYE, the DVLA and other departments or agencies, they lack access to the necessary biometric data such as fingerprints, digital iris recognition and facial digital photographs. Their programmes are undermined, despite the “hub”, by the lack of a national identity register to underpin the process of identity assurance. I sense that this approach is born of the mistaken assumption that it will save money. What it fails to heed is that public confidence in identity assurance cannot rely on private provider systems preoccupied with profit and shareholder value. Such identity assurance programmes will fall down as disastrously as did Vodafone, PA Consulting, EDS and others, all of which have lost data over recent years.
Card opponents tell you that the state equally stands accused of sloppy data handling. They quote HMRC’s loss of two CDs in 2007, leaving millions at risk, along with other examples. They did happen. But Germany has built a secure system with a reputation for impenetrability based on a range of biometrics. The system leads the way in Europe, and if they can do it, we can do it. Germany is leading a whole group of European nations, including Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, Finland, Estonia, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Greece, Gibraltar, France, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, Spain, Slovenia, Portugal, Poland and Holland. Most of those regimes require a passport or a card holding data which we refuse to hold. They are all building systems of identity assurance in which their publics can have confidence. Why can we not do the same? That is the background to the debate.
What do we want? Charles Clarke, former Home Secretary, summed it up perfectly in 2006 when he said that we want,
“a universal scheme for everyone legally resident in the UK”.
His scheme required a fingerprint, a photograph and a signature. I would go further, with iris recognition or even DNA added. If whatever data are finally approved were not to be stored on the card itself, the card could secure, through a protocol and a strong process of authentication and tiered authorisation, access to data, perhaps under three headings: “generally available”, “sensitive” and “highly sensitive”. The accessible information on the chip would relate to information held on the national identity register. The chip would have different layers of defence against physical attack, fault attack and side-channel attack. To compromise a properly designed system, you would have to manipulate the national identity register, which I would say is an impossible task. Again, the German system shows the way. I understand that EU passports are already common criteria evaluated, which means they already achieve best practice for attack resistance.
At this point, I thank Professor Keith Mayes of the Information Security Group at Royal Holloway University for helping me to understand the complexity of such systems. The issue for many of us is whether you hold the data on the card or whether the card authorises access to the national identity register. I believe that the cards should be an access tool to a server, enabling the card to establish basic ID as simply as possible.
What is the purpose of the card? We know that the CBI believes that a single source authenticating personal data would be the best protection against fraud. It foresees reduced costs in maintaining back-up systems. A recent government report entitled Future Identities highlighted that people often have several identities, on and offline. We are told that this, among other factors, is now costing us nearly £30 billion a year in fraud. National identity cards with sophisticated biometrics would help combat that fraud. You might compromise a photograph or a signature, but digitised information is hard to replicate. You certainly cannot have two iris patterns on one eye, two different fingerprints on one finger, or even two different types of DNA.
The purposes of a national identity card fall under four headings: to reduce fraud; to establish entitlement to services; to provide security assurance; and to check identity more generally. In defining the benefits, I have consolidated all three tiers and levels of access I previously referred to—generally available, sensitive and highly sensitive. I see the benefits coming as follows: when using banking or financial services, including credit or debit cards; when buying or selling property and vehicles; when making mortgage applications; when making credit transfers; when entering credit, rental, hire or leasing agreements; when boarding aircraft and other forms of public transport; when accessing public buildings and the workplace; when sitting exams and driving tests; when seeking to reduce HMRC’s tax collection costs; when voting; when establishing identity during police inquiries; when tracing the identity of someone who is deceased; when verifying “fit and proper” in the professions; when carrying out checks on workers at airports and in the caring professions, in particular when early decisions are required; when establishing proof of identity; when tackling impersonation, whether in examinations or, as I have said, driving tests; when tracking the background of false accusers; when tracing bail abscondees; when tracing persons engaged in road traffic offences; when dealing with illegal subletting; when accessing public services, public benefits and pensions; when challenging disability fraud; when dealing with council tax and housing benefit fraud; when establishing on-street identity—if I had longer, I would go into that in much greater detail; when establishing entitlements to concessionary travel and relief from congestion charges; and when investigating organised crime, including money-laundering and trafficking.
The card would be of particular benefit to the Government in checking entitlement to European Union health cards and access to national health services, including hospital treatment. It would give the Government the opportunity to sort out the disaster over the allocation of national insurance cards, and the problem of multiple passport irregularities. It would also bring us into line with other states whose cards already substitute for a passport.
Following the Government’s decision to legislate on illegal working, we should also not underestimate the benefit of the card for the private sector—for landlords checking on illegal tenancies, and for insurance companies in dealing with insurance fraud. The scheme should be tailored to allow them sufficient access at the lowest tiers to establish basic identity in carrying out both statutory and non-statutory duties. The scheme would be particularly helpful to the Director of Labour Market Enforcement proposed in the Immigration Bill. It would underpin his work. Most interestingly, the card would be useful in the enforcement of human rights, particularly for that group of women—invariably in the ethnic minorities—who, with tightly controlled family conditions, are denied basic human rights and even their identity.
I now come to the final benefit, which is crucial. Income tax collection in the UK is not without its problems. It is not helped by the system of self-assessment and reductions in revenue and personnel. Many people in the UK live outside or on the margins of the tax system. They pay no or little tax, yet they often earn substantial incomes while drawing extensively on public services. We who pay our taxes resent the freeloaders, be they foreign or UK nationals. We believe that the state should act to stop this abuse. It is costing the country billions. A national identity card with relevant biometric data would be a powerful tool in ensuring that people pay the state for the services they receive.
I recognise that at first glance, the list of benefits I have identified may appear onerous or perhaps even intrusive, but it is a pick-and-choose agenda which can be tailored to conditions nationally at any particular time. It is an agenda whereby identity today is verified with bank cards, passports, driving licences, utility bills, bank statements, council tax demands, national insurance cards and even marriage certificates—all sources of identity information today. We have all been asked for them at some stage in our private lives. All of them have their weaknesses, causing public concern.
The consultation originally carried out by the Labour Government not only recorded a majority in favour of national identity cards but, astonishingly, found that 75% were in favour of providing all three types of biometric data—fingerprints, a facial digital photograph and an iris digital photograph—such was the level of concern at the time. Today, the cry for reform is greater than ever, and I want this whole debate reopened.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, on initiating this debate and salute him for his persistence in pursuing the issue. I also thank Mary Santo for her typically helpful and informative Library Note.
My strong support for the introduction and general use of identity cards stems from my time on active service in Northern Ireland when commanding my battalion in west Belfast in 1974 and the Belfast brigade from 1978 to 1980. In 1974, whenever we wanted to prove the identity of someone we had stopped, we had to carry out what was called a P-check, which meant contacting the company base in the area in which the person stopped claimed to live and asking for their identity to be confirmed by checking the P-cards that were held on everyone known in the area. Often, this took some time, and I well remember being increasingly nervous when having to wait for 45 minutes for a check to be carried out in another battalion’s area while standing on a street on which the IRA was very active.
In 1979, it was decided that the whole system should be automated, all the old P-card data being transferred to a computer database. This process proved the inefficiency of the old system, one person being found to have 13 different spellings of his name on 13 different cards. Within days, the operational value of almost instant response had proved the spend-to-save value of the cost of automation.
In 1974, it was almost impossible to persuade members of the public to talk to us, largely because of their resentment of internment without trial, which, fortunately, was ended in 1975. When I returned in 1978, that situation had changed somewhat, with more people being prepared to talk, but the overt presence of armed troops on the streets was an impediment to normality, many people citing frequent P-checking, particularly when newly arrived regiments were getting to know their areas, as a particular irritant. My RUC opposite number often used to say how much easier it would be, for both police and Army, if everyone had to carry an identity card, not least in countering false identity—which sentiment I note with interest quoted in the Library Note as being felt by many policemen today. In consequence, I have always thought that human rights are more likely to be protected than breached by identity cards, because they can be used to prove both who someone is, or is not.
I am not going to go into the technicalities of how this can be done with an identity card, because I know that the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, will discuss biometrics, for example. Instead, because time is limited, I want to mention another practical use of identity cards of which I have long been in favour, not least because of its value in countering false identity. Every time someone is received into prison, they are given a new prison number, which is inefficient because it denies automatic access to previous records without a considerable amount of checking and comparing data. After prisoners are released, they have to apply to a jobcentre for any benefits to which they may be entitled, which takes time, during which they have to try to live on their £46 discharge grant.
When I inspected the prisons in the UAE for an extradition case, I found that prisoners were given identity cards, using the same number as their national identity card, which they could then use for many purposes such as access to medical provision, use of the library, or to record canteen purchases. But staff told me of the immense value of no longer having to carry out much time-consuming bureaucracy. How much simpler it would be on our prisons if an identity card number could also be used as a prison number, an NHS number and a national insurance number, all of which is perfectly possible given the power of current computer systems. Not only would this make life easier for the overstretched staffs of our overcrowded prisons but it would enable automatic access to medical records and transfer of records of treatment during imprisonment. A prisoner’s entitlement to benefits could be processed in prison, obviating avoidable temptation to reoffend in order to survive.
I dispute the Government’s continual refusal to consider the introduction of identity cards—largely, it would appear, on grounds of cost. I invite the Minister to consider that, from the point of view of many public servants, their introduction would be a spend-to-save measure.
My Lords, I too am grateful to my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours for giving us the opportunity to debate this extremely important topic. I was shocked to discover the other day that it is slightly more than 40 years since the first episode of “Fawlty Towers” was broadcast on television. I am sure that many remember that first episode, which introduced Basil Fawlty to the nation; he was a hotel owner, as many probably remember. He comes across a person describing himself as Lord Melbury, with whom he naturally forms a sort of fawning relationship, believing everything that he says. Lord Melbury, of course, as those who have seen the episode will know, is a con man. Because Basil Fawlty has no means of verifying the identity, he gets taken for a ride with all the ensuing consequences.
The principle of enabling citizens to verify each other’s identity is actually an extremely important one, and has become more important in the 40 years since then. It is a matter of considerable regret to me that the last Labour Government attempted to mis-sell the concept of identity cards and identity assurance in that way. I am quite clear that identity cards would not have been a magic bullet against terrorism, or serious or organised crime, but it would have been an assistance; it would have made things easier for the police and security services, and would have saved time in verifying, but it would not have solved those fundamental problems. But that simple idea of having an identity register and connecting oneself to it would have enabled citizens to prove who they were and—as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has just told us—who they were not, very quickly. It would have been tremendously easy. At the moment, when we have to verify our identity, we are required to produce a passport or driving licence. I do not have a driving licence, simply a passport, which I have to find and not lose. You are then required to produce a recent utility bill, sometimes two, at a time when the utilities are trying to get us all to manage our accounts online, so we do not have that piece of paper which signifies our name and address. In my case, at least one utility has my name wrong. It is mis-spelt. That does not matter in the provision of the service concerned, but it is a pain in the neck when I am trying to prove I am who I think I am.
We are now increasingly reliant on being able to demonstrate who we are and to satisfy other people about that. It is more necessary than it ever was. It is becoming increasingly important online, so some mechanism which would span this and enable us to identify ourselves online is crucial. It is a protection for business—as in the case of Basil Fawlty—and for the public. Who am I dealing with online? Who am I dealing with face to face?
Concerns expressed about the idea of a state-run identity system are either about cost—and as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has already indicated, they are not very convincing—or are something to do with civil liberties. Let us be clear that if the state does not take on this function, others will. In fact, I am surprised that we have not yet got a series of major commercial operations offering us an identity service of this sort. Some of them do so on a fringe basis, but there is nothing that is comprehensive and effective. Would that be any less scary if you are worried about your personal privacy than the Government providing the service?
We already give out an enormous amount of information, such as via supermarket loyalty cards. One such scheme identified that a woman was pregnant before her family knew and started sending her material about pregnancy, which caused a certain degree of embarrassment. There are phone data and payment cards. Until I switched it off, my mobile phone, in a rather obscure location, produced a map of my favourite places. For all I know, it still does. Certainly, that data may well reside or be updated on a regular basis on a Californian server. It tells them—or me, if I did not know it already—where I spend a large amount of my time. If you looked at the map, you would find I spend a large amount of time at this end of the parliamentary complex. I try to confuse it by spending a lot of time in Portcullis House, but it was still clear. That gave one marker, as far as I was concerned. It demonstrated that I spend most nights in north London on the borders of Haringey and Islington, another marker. When I was heavily involved in the Metropolitan Police, it would demonstrate that I spent a lot of time just opposite St James’s Park Tube station. You are beginning to get a pattern, but what is the significance of being told where I go for my morning coffee on my way to work? We already have all sorts of things managing our identity and intruding on our privacy. Would it not be better if we had a simple system on which everyone could rely that was run on our behalf by our nation state?
My Lords, I am basically on the same side as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, on this matter. However, I approach it from a slightly different point of view. The key words in the Motion are,
“assuring the identity of individuals”.
Why is this Motion so opportune and sensible at the moment? It is because the Government of this country are faced with a huge challenge to their most basic responsibility: to assure the safety of individuals. That is of course a challenge faced by all EU Governments. The threat of Islamist terrorism, although quite different, is as great as that which the West faced during the Cold War, and certainly far greater than that which the UK faced during the Irish Troubles. This is a moment when the acceptance of the balance between privacy and national security has shifted, and must shift, dramatically.
“Identity documentation” is no longer the key phrase; rather, it is “identity verification”. There has been a tendency to assume that the value of identity documents, whether passports, driving licences or ID cards, can be enhanced by the inclusion in them of biometric data. Indeed, that may be the case in the majority of instances. Where it really matters, though, in serious crime and above all in terrorism, it is a dangerous illusion. For the sophisticated criminal or terrorist, it is not a problem to replace on any document the biometrics of the legitimate holder with those of the person who is carrying the document. The biometrics will match so that when you produce the document, yes, it matches and you are who you say you are, but you will not be.
The only secure method of identification is for the biometrics of the person to whom an identity document has been issued to be matched online with biometrics stored centrally at the time of issue. For that, what we need is not a secure document but merely a secure number. What is urgently needed in the UK is the abolition—the abandonment—of the chaotic multiplicity of identity numbers and the introduction of a single identity number. This should be used for passports, national insurance and tax, driving licences and other state permits, as well as for the National Health Service. It would of course be the primary number used for the security, police and prison services, as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said. It would be possible for the standard number that everybody had to have an added prefix, or something added on after it, to separate it according to its use, and of course to build in all the necessary safeguards so that access to the fundamental data could be restricted according to the authorisation of the person applying to get the information, so it would all be stored and very safe.
Over the years I have asked Parliamentary Questions on what I have just described as the chaos, and, frankly, I have had the most absurd answers. With regard to travel documents, the Government still lack records of what other passports a British passport holder possesses. Not surprisingly, we have had the dangerous absurdity in increasingly numerous cases of terrorist suspects on bail skipping out of the country, either because they have failed to surrender their passports or because they have had second or third passports that no one knew about. I am putting down an amendment to the Immigration Bill once again, for the third time, to deal with this. It should of course be standard practice to cancel any passport electronically so that the actual document is unusable.
The Government do not even know how many national insurance numbers there are in use and say that it would be too expensive to find out. Non-British nationals can obtain our national insurance numbers even if they only have time-limited visas. The Department for Work and Pensions does not cancel the numbers when they expire; it just keeps them, so there must be millions more than the entire population. To give the House an example of that, there are approximately 72 million live NHS numbers in England and Wales, while the population of those two countries is 56 million. Presumably, some 16 million non-residents are on the books of the NHS. Can we really afford this?
I believe that the survival of European civilisation, which historically has been based on democracy, Christianity and the nation state, is today under challenge from the jihadists of Islamic State. We must act to defend it, and I hope that the Government take this debate as a starting point for urgent action.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours for obtaining this debate and for the excellent way he introduced it. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, will not mind if I do not follow him directly down that route, but I can inform him that I believe his suggestion is very close to what the Government intend to propose at some point in the near future.
I will take this debate one stage if not several stages further. We are living through a technological and scientific revolution that has changed the world more in the last 50 years, and will increasingly do so in the next five or 10 years, than has ever happened before in the history of mankind. That is the world we live in. I want to move from the idea of an ID card to what I would call a smart card for all. Such a card would of course do all the things my noble friend said as regards introducing security, giving people the right to know what is on it, and so on. However, I want that to be a smart card which enables people to put on to it all the information we hold.
Every one of us in this Chamber and probably in the Houses of Parliament as a whole has a form of identification. I hang it around my neck, because I do not assume that the policemen at the gate automatically know who I am. At the end of the day, that is an ID card. It opens doors—I have only to put that on to a door and I can open it. I have a driving licence in my wallet, a passport at home, bank cards and a whole series of membership cards for different organisations. Why should I not just have one card, with some form of identification on it—a fingerprint or an eye scan, or whatever it might be, or even DNA, as my noble friend suggested? That would mean that I could get rid of all the various forms of ID I have at present because I would have one card. I accept that people might say, “But you might lose it, so maybe we should have three or four cards”. Despite what the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, says, people will not find it easy to reproduce it, so even if you lose it, it will become just a piece of detritus that you can leave. Eventually, however, there will be a chip in the back of your hand, all the information will go on to that, and you will put that on to things.
Turning to the commercial aspect, the Government are talking to the banks about the idea of them paying for some of this. Banks and those who deal online, such as travel agents, or people who sell online on Amazon, will increasingly want some form of ID—a way in which they can establish the identity of the person who buys their goods or who goes to the bank machine, and know that that person is who they claim to be. Therefore, the banks may in the first instance put an extra slot in the bank machine so you can put in your ID card and then your bank card. It would be even better if the bank could put its banking services on to that single card, so you put one card in the machine, put your fingerprint on it or let it scan your eye, and then the bank could say you are the right person.
That is the world we live in. The technology is already there. I am sorry to have to say this to my noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey, but the fact is that the Apple iPhone 6 is available with a fingerprint control, and you can bank with it and buy almost any goods with it. So we already have the technology. You have to use some form of card—although, I accept, not an ID card—on London Transport buses because they will not allow you to use cash any more. Cash will be a thing of the past—in the next 10 or 15 years it will have gone. Cheques are already going and cash will go next.
That is the world in which we live. If this place does not keep pace with that technology, we will be in very grave danger of not keeping up with what is going on in the world outside, and if that happens, we will start to lose democracy itself.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, for initiating this debate. However, I am going to break the cosy coalition of those who believe that the state is the sole, and safe, guardian of my identity. I say that because I have listened to the debate and am still not clear what the problem is. It is not for me, as somebody who does not believe in ID cards, to defend the status quo; it is for those who want a change to prove that there is a problem and that ID cards are the effective solution.
Let us look at the real world outside this cosy Chamber and see what is happening in the countries that have ID cards. Many noble Lords have mentioned different countries, such as Germany, Spain, Italy and France, in talking about crime. Can any of those noble Lords or those yet to speak who wish to have ID cards point to a direct correlation between a reduction in crime levels and the citizens having ID cards? We need proof, not general statements. Those who suggest that ID cards will reduce the incidence of crime should give the statistics that show a correlation between ID cards and a reduction in crime in Germany, Spain and France.
It is also said that ID cards will somehow be effective in reducing terrorism. I remind noble Lords of the horrific attack and terrorist atrocities in Jakarta this morning and the appalling attacks that we have seen just across the water in France. Indonesian citizens carry ID cards, as do the citizens of France. Have those cards made them any safer? If noble Lords can show me a correlation between identity cards and a reduction in terrorism in those countries, I will support them.
We also hear about identity fraud. Again, I would like to see statistical evidence that there is more identity fraud in this country than in countries that have ID cards. I ask noble Lords to show me the facts. Most identity fraud now occurs online, and in the countries that I have just talked about national ID cards are not used to prove your identity in commercial transactions.
Benefit fraud and taxation fraud, which the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, talked about, have been given as reasons for bringing in ID cards. Most people do not lie about their identity in such cases; they lie about their financial circumstances. So, again, I ask noble Lords who support the introduction of ID cards to give me the facts which show that in countries with ID cards there is less taxation fraud and less benefit fraud.
My Lords, I am comparing like with like, because those who argue that ID cards work are suggesting that somehow the problems that they have suggested will be reduced. The noble Lord next to me made it very clear that he did not believe that they would wipe out these problems, but I am asking for the evidence that shows that they will reduce them: that is all I am asking for. I accept that they will not wipe them out or get rid of them, but I wish to know whether there is scientific evidence in those countries that shows that these problems have been reduced—because if there is not, we do not have a problem and our system works in a comparable way to that of other nations.
The last thing I will say on this issue, because I do not have time to go into the civil liberties argument, is that it is really important for British civil liberties and freedom. Part of what makes us British—the British values that some go on about—is freedom, and the state not having overall control of our identity. In dealing with this issue—and particularly crime and terrorism, where recently this debate has come up most—we would be undermining the very British values of freedom and civil liberty, and the criminals and terrorists would have won, if we were forced to have compulsory ID cards.
My Lords, a few days ago I listened to an interesting item that is a matter of concern to many people. So far in this debate, noble Lords have covered a number of subjects concerning identity cards. I will address just one problem. If somebody wishes to work with children or if they want to foster or adopt a child, there is a strict process that must to be completed, with a DBS certificate being issued. This involves the Disclosure and Barring Service—the DBS—which was previously the Criminal Records Bureau. A criminal record check is required for types of work known as “regulated activity with children”—and this covers people who do not even meet children frequently.
Having read a little about this matter, I have to say that I am astonished at the number of acts which are covered. An incredibly large number of people apply for a job for which the employer is required to request a DBS check and has to wait for a certificate. This is sent to the applicant, and the employer has to ask for visual confirmation of approval. The time it takes to complete the necessary check depends on the level of the check, the details provided by the applicant wanting to work with children and, finally, which police forces need to be involved in the check. Generally, it takes about eight weeks to get a DBS check. It must be remembered that a lot of people wanting to work with children are unemployed and might want to work as soon as possible.
However—this is why I am raising the matter—the current process that is meant to take eight weeks rarely achieves that, and there are those who are still waiting after three or four months. Why? The programme indicated that this delay was due to the number of applicants and to the police force involved, and it was said that there were approximately 120,000 people waiting in the Metropolitan Police area—which gives an idea of the number of people who want to work with children.
There has to be something that will overcome this problem. How about a special identification card for everybody to carry which can be updated when necessary, specifically for those who want to work with children? Would this not be an easy and cheap way out of these difficulties? It would be much cheaper than the current system.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, for introducing this debate. I take the view that ID cards are an idea whose time has come and I support exactly what the noble Lord, Lord Harris, said about an increasing number of people—a more and more rapidly increasing number of people—living a lot of their lives online and being quite prepared to give up information freely online. ID cards—state ID cards—are a natural extension of this process. My expertise, such as it is, is in security, and it will be on that aspect in the main that I will talk briefly.
False identities are an absolutely staple terrorist tactic. In answer to the questions from the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, in these troubled times it is not so much about the prevention of terrorism but its investigation. The police and the security services have an increasingly desperate concern in long-term inquiries, and sometimes in emergency inquiries, to establish the identity of individuals.
Is it not the case that, following the two major terrorist attacks in the UK, particularly the one in London, of the 99 recommendations given, quite a lot of those were about people already known and the security forces not acting on the data that they knew? It was not about a lack of data.
I am sure there were some recommendations like that, but perhaps when I have finished the noble Lord might see the opposite side of the coin.
It is this search for identity that lies behind the troubled development of the DNA database. The same reason lies behind the coming forward of the investigatory powers Bill and the question of ID cards.
I remind the House of two names: Kamel Bourgass and Manfo Asiedu. Bourgass was convicted in 2003 of the murder of Detective Constable Stephen Oake in Manchester. He was sentenced for that and other terrorist offences to 25 years in prison. Manfo Asiedu was the fifth bomber in the failed London attacks of 21 July 2005. He ran off across Wormwood Scrubs, throwing his device to the ground. He received 33 years’ imprisonment as a sentence. The thing that connects these two men is that at the time of their conviction we did not know who they were. As far as I can accept, we still do not know who they are. We know that the names they have given are not their right names. This is simply absurd. The links that we might have been able to establish to other plots and other people had a system of ID cards been in place are pretty obvious.
I need to make one issue clear, and here I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham: nobody I know in the police or security services who has considered this seriously sees a need for people compulsorily to carry identity papers in the street. This is not a question of a police officer demanding papers from somebody walking down the road. However, in the case of serious crime and terrorism, the police need, as soon as possible, to establish identity. These days, it would not be difficult to create a system that would not be intrusive but would be of huge assistance in those inquiries.
As the Foreign Secretary said today, speaking about Jakarta, these are troubled times. These troubled times are on our very doorstep. I speak now to the Minister: I never understood why, as far back as the 2005 general election, the Conservative Party resisted the idea of ID cards. After Paris, after Istanbul, after Jakarta, I do not think the public will understand why the Conservative Party is still resisting the idea. It is an idea whose time has come.
My Lords, I want to focus on some of the issues that I have been investigating in my work to try to encourage more rail freight, passenger services and other traffic across the channel, the pretty disastrous camps that have been created in Calais and the pressure that is on many people who want to come to this country.
Before I do that, I would like to reflect on something. We have been talking about the different identification required for different events, including people going into buildings and so on. More and more, organisations require that but, on the other side, nobody is required to carry any ID at all. A couple of years ago, I was invited to go and visit Prince Charles in Clarence House to advise him on rail freight. I turned up on my bike and the security guard said, “Where’s your driving licence?”. I told him that I did not need a driving licence because I was on a bike—I did not have one anyway. “Where’s your passport?”, he said. I am afraid that I then said, “Are you a foreign country?”. I offered my House of Lords pass, but that was rejected out of hand. There needs to be some consistency. It is lovely being amateur like this but, given today’s problems, it is pretty ineffective.
I have talked to a lot of people about the problem in Calais. It is dramatically affecting cross-channel traffic, including businesses, passenger services, freight services, lorries, cars, trains and so on. It affects not only France but Germany, Italy and other countries.
As to what documentation people need to show the authorities, I agree with my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours that the Germans have got it right, for many reasons. They still have a terrible fear of what the Stasi did to them over 25 years ago and are keen to have data that do not leak everywhere. We should try to get all the different immigration and other services together and come up with a common approach which would allow you to go on a train from, say, Germany to London without getting off at Lille and wasting two hours while you have to go through security again. The fact that they cannot reach agreement means you have to go through this 19th century procedure.
One of the issues that arises in many discussions is: why do people want to come to this country? Clearly the Government do not want too many people here, unless they are going to be useful and work and so on, and so they are stuck in Calais. We have had many debates as to the reasons. Clearly one is that we speak English and, like most of the rest of the world, the country they come from probably speaks English as a second language. If they have family and friends here, one can understand why they want to come here.
The evidence I have gathered from talking to a lot of people is that one of the great attractions in getting here is that you can survive without any ID. You can work cashless. Whether that is in the restaurant or café trade, agriculture or anything else, there are a lot of places where you can get by without having to pay tax or declaring anything. You do not need any social security identification but you can probably still be treated in hospital if anything goes wrong. If you visit a hospital in France as an emergency, you will be treated. Otherwise you will have to show an ID, a passport, an insurance card(?) or something.
Having an identification requirement in this country—I am not expert but other noble Lords have provided good information about it—would reduce the pressure on us. We should not think that this problem will go away because, if the Calais situation is tightened up, which the Government are quite good at doing, all that will happen is that people will go round the coast, to the west and to the north, and choose other ways of getting in. As we saw in the press, one of the Paris bombers apparently came into this country and out again without being detected. So detection must be properly carried out.
We need some form of identification in this country together with enforcement. I notice that there is a clause in the Immigration Bill that allows the Government to take away driving licences from people they do not like, but what else can they take away? It would be better if the system were co-ordinated because eventually the message would get back to people who are trying to come here that we are no better or more attractive than any other part of Europe. We hope that you will think carefully before trying to come to this country because you think you can work here on the cheap, without paying tax and without having any ID.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, for introducing this fabulous debate.
In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, the problem is that we do not have one clean, reliable identity database. Can any noble Lord, or anyone inside or outside the Chamber, tell me why we get so excited about DNA profiling? My DNA profile is a matter of fact: I cannot alter it; it will not change with my age; it is not a choice that I have made. One of its beauties is that it can be boiled down to 70 characters of 16 groups plus a gender marker. This could be put on to a computer database which can easily be searched.
To verify every citizen’s identity à la the old ID card system is an exceptionally time-consuming, intrusive and expensive process, which is why it was binned in a former Parliament. It is also a pointless exercise because most citizens are honest and have a driving licence that is reasonably accurate. We have similar problems with Criminal Records Bureau checks because essentially they are trying to establish identity. We could give every citizen access to the driving licence system, even if they do not have the ability to drive, and then put more effort into cleaning up the relevant database. I agree with much of what my noble friend Lord Marlesford said because the advantage of the driver number is that it is easily determined from one’s name and date of birth.
But I would go further. I would capture the DNA profile and fingerprints of every UK citizen and link them to what is currently the driver number. The DNA profile would be loaded into the national DNA database with its current very strict access controls. The fingerprint data would have broadly the same availability as the data collected for the biometric residence permit, with some facility for banks and building societies to verify a card. One’s DNA profile and fingerprints are both matters of fact, and of course there is no need to carry a card because authorities can test fingerprints with mobile equipment. Having a card is simply a convenience; it is about the underlying reliable identity system.
Much more sensitive, I think, is who a citizen has been communicating with and where in the UK he or she has been, a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey. I will deal with some of the most obvious DNA worries. The first is genetics. My understanding is that the DNA profile does not have enough information in it to identify a genetic disorder or predisposition to a particular illness. In any case, my second point is that the national DNA database will check only if a profile from a crime scene matches a subject profile. It will not generally provide a subject profile to law enforcement authorities or anyone else, and there is no need to do so.
My third point is that an innocent British citizen abroad would be disadvantaged if he is matched to a crime scene profile because the local law enforcement agencies could become lazy and think that they have “got their man”. Actually, the current system has this weakness. Let us take as an example a 25 year-old British lad on holiday who had been involved in a punch-up in the UK five years previously. He would be in the same unfair situation. This would not happen if all UK citizens were on the database without any discrimination. In the event of a nasty incident with a crime scene DNA profile available, it would not be so remarkable if a Brit matched the crime scene profile.
Finally, there is the argument that central government is incapable of managing a big IT system. The fact is that the Home Office is successfully managing the DNA database. As I understand it, only around 40 officials can actually access it, and presumably there is only one normal point of access, while the records hardly ever need to be edited or updated because of their nature; they are matters of fact that do not change. That is rather different from other records such as health records. In my view, public and political opinion on the use of DNA profiling is governed by fear and misunderstanding rather than logic. We should give all citizens a reliable system of identity rather than go for an intrusive and bureaucratic process of trying to verify everyone’s ID.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours for introducing this debate. I always thought that it was a great pity that the last attempt by the Labour Government to have identity cards was abandoned on the grounds of research by, I am ashamed to say, the LSE that it would be too expensive. As noble Lords know, India has just instituted an almost universal identity card system called Aadhaar, which 900 million people have already got.
The Aadhaar card has been extremely useful for transactions with banks, claiming subsidies and accessing the welfare state, especially for very poor people who normally do not have proof of identity. The fact that they have very easily provable identity—I think because of the biometric data—has not only liberated a lot of people but reduced costs across both private and public transactions. If we are going to have this, could we ask the Indians to do it for us? They would probably do it for one-tenth of the price of anyone else and they are very good at it.
Let us not demand too much of such a card. First, having a universal identity card in everyone’s possession shows universality of membership of a community. It is very important that we are all part of the same community. Secondly, in relation to what the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, said, everything about me is known. It is not possible for me to have my individuality hidden and under just my control. As many noble Lords have pointed out, Walmart and Google know it. Recently I was writing a book and I was told that my book had to be more interesting because someone reading a book on a Kindle reads only four paragraphs at a time. Therefore, every fifth paragraph has to be exciting. Any time I use a phone or a Kindle, or do anything, somebody has mapped me. So I am not a free citizen.
We need first of all to make quite sure that our different numbers—our national health number, our national insurance number and so on—are co-ordinated. If we are to use a driver’s licence, people like me who do not drive will have to get one. We need some form of identity with a photograph and biometric identity information. It should be universal, and be able to be used for all bank transactions and any purchases, including bus travel and so on. If we do that, the saving in transaction costs would be enormous. The World Bank has admitted that just having these cards is saving India $1 billion per year, which is a great saving.
There will be terrorism anyway. In terms of separating people, those who have identity cards might be easier to map and those who do not have them definitely can be treated as suspects. The use of ID cards will not get rid of terrorism but it will ease our lives in many other ways, which is why we should do it.
My Lords, I am pleased to speak in this debate. If ever I wondered about the need for a Liberal party, I do not wonder after hearing the comments today. I was proud to be part of the coalition Government in 2010 who repealed the Identity Cards Act 2006 and who ordered the destruction of the national identity database. I am also proud that my party has been consistent throughout its history in opposing national identity card schemes. Indeed, it was the only party that opposed from the outset the Labour Government’s attempts to impose identity cards in 2004. I am also pleased to follow my noble friend Lord Scriven in opposing the suggestion again today.
There are many reasons, both of principle and practicality, why a national identity card scheme is a very bad idea. The most important issue of principle is that it would fundamentally alter the relationship between the state and its citizens. It violates the fundamental traditions of Britain that have kept our liberties safe.
We need to be really clear about what a national ID card system, with a national ID card database, actually means. For the first time in our peacetime history, the state would have the power to demand information from every person in the land, not in order for them to travel or gain an internationally recognised travel document—a passport—or to prove that they have complied with the driving test, or even to gain access to a public service, but simply because they exist. For the first time in peacetime, every person in this country would be compelled to attend a designated place, to be fingerprinted and to have their biometric data taken from them. On every occasion that a citizen moved house the state would have the right to know. More than that, every citizen would be under a duty to inform the state, and a penalty of severe fines, if they moved their premises.
An ID scheme is being discussed here as if it is just some administrative system. It is a fundamental departure from the way we operate in this country. I can think of no other common-law country in the world that operates a national identity scheme—none. Indeed, we have heard comments from noble Lords telling us how popular a national identity system would be. I wonder about that, because there are two common-law countries that thought about introducing such a system: Australia and New Zealand. They backtracked pretty rapidly because as soon as the public actually knew what it meant they changed their views on it rather quickly. Indeed, I can think of no other democracy in the world that operates a national ID scheme that does not offer its citizens the protection of a written constitution and a Bill of Rights.
India has a written constitution. I said that no democracy in the world operates a national identity system that does not have and does not afford its citizens the protection of a written constitution, which India does, and a Bill of Rights, which India also does. The noble Lord makes my point rather clearly.
I will rapidly wind up my comments, but I want to address a couple of specific things. The noble Lord, Lord Blair, told the House about circumstances in which the police and the security services did not, and still do not, have information about who somebody actually is. He also said that the police would not need to stop people and demand papers from them, but in those circumstances it is not clear to me how he could be absolutely sure that the people he refers to would have had documents. If the police are not checking for them, it would certainly be possible for people to avoid that.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, had a lot of faith in biometric data, but as we have heard evidenced, 10% of French biometric passports have been found to be forged. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, spoke about illegal workers and tax evasion, but as we know, places such as Italy, France and other countries with ID cards still have to deal with those problems.
A national identity card system would not protect us from terrorism, or stop illegal immigration or illegal workers. But above all, it would violate the fundamental principle that, in this country, it is the state that accounts to the people; it is not the people who have to account to the state.
My Lords, I join those who have congratulated my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours on initiating this important debate and, indeed, on his powerful speech.
I am one of the dwindling number in your Lordships’ House who carried my identity card during the war when I went to school. I had no problem with that: indeed, I was rather proud to have an identity card. Now, of course, the argument is made that that was wartime. Make no mistake, we are currently in a de facto war situation. Call it ISIS, call it Daesh, call it what you will, but the growing number of terrorist groups means that we are at war. In these circumstances, we have to use every instrument we can to try to protect ourselves.
The noble Lords, Lord Scriven and Lord Oates, have elevated the carrying of identity cards to some great principle and say that it is quite wrong that the state should be involved. They have argued that identity cards do no good at all. No one in this House has argued that the use of identity cards is a silver bullet and will solve the problems we are experiencing—of course they will not. However, they are a necessary tool which I believe must be used.
The second argument is the civil liberties one. Again, the noble Lords, Lord Scriven and Lord Oates—perhaps according to the script—promote that argument. Civil liberties are not absolute; they cannot be absolute. No organised state can operate on the basis of vanity. The noble Lords say that the state does not demand this and does not demand that. How far do they take that argument? Are they saying, for example, that it is wrong for the state to say that, if someone wants to drive, they must have a driving licence? Is that the case? No, of course not. That is the trouble with taking things to ridiculous extremes. To say that identity cards pose all sorts of challenges is quite mistaken. It is the duty of a state to protect civil liberties. Indeed, I would be the last to allow the state to infringe my civil liberties. However, civil libertarians have a right and a duty to defend and nurture the state and the society which make those civil liberties available. That is where I part company with the Liberal Democrats in particular as they do not recognise that those of us who are involved in society in this country have a right to defend ourselves and, indeed, to make things better.
Of course, there are many different identity schemes around. For example, I carry a driving licence, as do many people. I also carry a bank card, two supermarket loyalty cards and my Automobile Association membership. I say “Automobile Association membership” in case saying AA membership is misunderstood. I also carry my Labour Party membership card and an organ donor card. People ask why it is necessary to carry anything else. It is vital that we understand that although these different cards cover a broad spectrum, it could be argued that the cards I carry are perfect cover for someone who is up to no good. It just depends how you look at it.
We have to understand that all cards currently in use are vulnerable to one extent or the other. Of course, the use of biometric passports is improving the situation. However, the fact is that there is concern about cards being used in counterfeiting. In the dangerous world in which we live, it is necessary to defend ourselves and at the same time protect our civil liberties. A discussion about identity cards is valuable. Today’s debate will not solve everything but I hope that it will reignite the campaign to introduce identity cards.
My Lords, I want to look at this from a practical point of view. Will the ID cards or a national database work? The first thing I want to know is what is it for? People think that it will help with payments and with fraud but what I want to know is that someone has paid their bill, I do not really need to know who they are. With travel and passports, is this a great reliable thing with the Government issuing it? In 2007, it was admitted that there were 10,000 fraudulently obtained but real passports issued by the Passport Office, because even it cannot protect against everything.
In terms of access, we have House of Lords passes to get in here; we do not really need an ID card especially for that. On medical and NHS matters, we have a number for that. Could it be amalgamated with something else? The problem is that expatriates go abroad; that is why there are more NHS numbers than we have people. All those expatriates can come back here at any point and demand services.
You might want to prove your qualifications; you have a driving licence for that. I suppose you could try to amalgamate things into one card but would you have to change the card every time you got a different qualification? Actually, everything is online now—all they do is look you up. You are not even going to have the paper part any more that says what your speeding offences are and so on.
The other thing such a document could be for is collecting tax, with the NINO, or the national insurance number—but, “Oh, there are far too many of those”. Foreigners working here receive entitlements by paying in and if they come back here to work later on, they are entitled to benefits. If they come and retire here they are entitled to their past history. We have lots of people on the system who may come back. It is not one-to-one so we should not want it linked to ID cards.
So the ID card is going to identify the bad guys—great. Will it work? Does it say “terrorist” or “crook” on it? What does the CRB check, as it used to be called, tell you? What it says is that you have not been caught yet. This is the trouble with these things. The 2004 Madrid bombers, for instance, were stopped by the police, who had no idea that they were terrorists and let them go. Does a card tell you where the bail-jumper is? It does not have a special tracking device on it to tell you who is a bail-jumper; it does not do anything like that.
I point out that 35 million tourists come to this country every year, for eight days each on average—that is just the tourists; there are also all the businesspeople. That is an awful lot of foreign identity documents, issued by all sorts of places which I do not think I had better name; let us call them Ruritania in general, although I can tell you that an awful lot are issued by states that have no interest in helping us whatsoever. How do you check that a document belongs to a particular person, otherwise it is just a flash-and-go card; you look at the picture and maybe it looks sufficiently like the person: “You’ve grown a beard, okay, I won’t worry”? There are portable biometric readers but the trouble with biometrics is that they change with age; even DNA can change a bit but I do not know enough about it to know whether all or just a critical bit changes. What I do know is that, within the limited accuracy of laboratory test results—because they are always reduced to a set number of points that can be compared electronically—you will find that you have duplicate thumb or finger-prints, which, visually, you might be able to see are different. It is the same thing with a portion of DNA; usually it is said to be a one-in-6-million match. That means that, with that level of accuracy in the testing, there are 10 people in the UK with the same DNA as you. Given that most of the population are in the south-east, it means that quite a few of them are close to where you are. So, by coincidence, quite a few people could be stopped who might be mistaken for you.
Another big problem is false negatives. You stick your cash card into the wall to take out some money and you stick your ID card in alongside, you put your thumb on the reader and it then says you are not you. But you have a bill to pay or you have to pay a chap who is trying to do you for dropping litter on the ground—with all these new police powers or local authority powers we are getting. You cannot take out the money so you have to spend the night in jail because it has said that you are not you. The false negatives are very difficult; the moment you try to eliminate them, you lessen your biometric uniqueness. You have to blur it a bit more, because there are huge problems around that.
What I really worry about, which has been mentioned already, is the Gestapo/Stasi issue. Whenever the state has had a huge amount of knowledge about us, it has used it for its own ends. I will mention that at the very end.
It also helps fraud if you have a single number. The US experience of having a single tax number to link all your details makes it much easier. If you can get that off someone plus a couple of other bits, you get everything on them. It is much easier to impersonate them there. Here, it is much harder to get everything and there is therefore friction between the different silos, when something does not quite match if you catch the crooks. They have half your information but not all of it. Of course, if we link up all the databases it will be a magnet for the crooks and spies. The first thing I would do as a foreign agency would be to have someone in there to get the details so that I could put in implants, create identities and so on. It will only give us a false sense of security.
You can actually get a good feel for how someone is by building up a profile of what they do online. Their digital footprint is probably much more critical nowadays. With online feedback and references, you can discover whether people are good or bad by other people in the community telling you whether they are all right. That is how we do things in real life: we get references about people.
To finish off, I recommend a very good miniseries of “Doctor Zhivago” that was done in 2002. Interestingly, it was nothing like the old David Lean romance but all about how a powerful apparatchik with access to information can control a family for his own nefarious ends. We should just be careful that we do not end up with a J Edgar Hoover in the UK starting to control things because he has access to the databases. I am not entirely paranoid but, just because I am, it does not mean to say that they are not out to get me. Another thing I do not want to see is cordon and search to trawl for illegal immigrants or bail-jumpers, for example—how else are these people to be found?—because of the ID card. All I can say is that if you are eating your dinner and the waiters at your great occasion have all been hauled off for checking but did not have the right ID cards, you are going to be pretty cross.
My Lords, first, I add my thanks to those expressed already by so many others to my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours for securing this debate. It provided us with a real trip down memory lane to be reminded by my noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey of an early episode of “Fawlty Towers” and then to be fascinated by hearing about his favourite places.
As my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours said, both Conservative and Labour Governments, and the Home Affairs Committee in the other place, have at differing times expressed an interest in, or introduced, identity cards. In May 1995, the Conservative Government published a Green Paper on identity cards. In 1996, the Home Affairs Select Committee in the other place concluded in a report that the balance of advantage to the individual citizen and to the public as a whole was in favour of some form of voluntary identity card, subject to a number of provisos. The committee also stated that only a compulsory card, or one that carried details of immigration status, would have an impact on preventing illegal immigration. The Queen’s Speech of the 1996-97 parliamentary Session then included a commitment by the then Government to publish a draft Bill on the introduction of voluntary identity cards.
In 2004, the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee published a report, following its own inquiry and the publication of a draft Bill by the then Government, which concluded that the Government had made a convincing case for proceeding with the introduction of identity cards. The committee said that the test should be whether the measures needed to install and operate an effective identity card system were proportionate to the benefits such a system would bring and to the problems to be tackled, and whether such a proposed system was the most effective way of achieving this goal. It also expressed the view that the scheme proposed by the then Government would represent a significant change in the relationship between the state and the individual—a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Oates, who was opposed to going down the road advocated by my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours.
The Labour Government then passed the Identity Cards Act 2006, which created a framework for national identity cards in the UK and a national identity register. The rollout of compulsory ID cards for foreign nationals began in November 2008 and the rollout of the identity card to UK residents began on a voluntary basis in November 2009. The then Government argued that the Act would achieve less illegal migration and illegal working, enhance the UK’s capability to counter terrorism and serious and organised crime, reduce identity fraud and lead to more efficient and effective delivery of public services. That was not a view shared by the incoming 2010 Conservative-led coalition Government, who immediately passed an Identity Documents Act cancelling identity cards, which ceased to be a legal document for confirming a person’s identity in January 2011 and ceased to be a valid travel document. However, as has been said, the UK Border Agency continues to issue biometric residence permits to non-European Economic Area foreign nationals staying in the UK for more than six months to provide evidence of the holder’s immigration status in this country.
In his speech, my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours made his case for identity cards in his typically powerful and persuasive manner, and raised a number of points which require a full answer from the Government if this debate is to have any meaningful purpose and not simply turn out to be little better than a talking shop. On previous, very recent occasions when the issue of identity cards has been raised, both in this House and in the other place, the Government’s response has been that they considered money that would have been spent on identity cards had been and was being more usefully spent on better equipping security forces and better securing our borders.
There are two points on that. First, to suggest that we have improved and are improving control of our borders by using money not being spent on identity cards seems a rather doubtful claim from a Government who are nowhere near achieving their own declared objective of net migration in the tens of thousands, who apparently have large numbers of asylum seekers whose claims they have rejected still in this country without even knowing where they are, and who have no real idea how many people are in this country with no authority to be here.
The second point is that the Government appear to see identity cards as an inferior option to investing in other means of improving security and control rather than as potentially another complementary string to the bow. If that is the Government’s argument and I have not misrepresented it, they have to make their case, including by responding in detail to the specific and clear points made by my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours about the potential wide-ranging benefits of identity assurance and an identity database. As has been said, many other European countries have identity card systems in one form or another in which they appear to have confidence, so it is not some revolutionary, untested idea.
As my noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey and others have said, we also live in a society where, in the light of technological developments, the amount already known about an individual, or which can relatively easily be found out about an individual, by both commercial and other organisations and the state is considerable and seems to expand by the year. As a result, the extent to which it can be claimed that an identity card system and an identity register represent some further unacceptable intrusion into privacy is one on which there are likely to be very different views.
In the House of Commons earlier this week, the Government were asked by both a Conservative and a Labour Member to reconsider the question of ID cards in the light of issues concerning immigration and the identification, detention and deportation of illegal immigrants, as well as the introduction of digital services, national security and the protection of UK citizens from terrorism. In his speech, my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours laid emphasis on how he considered the benefits of identity assurance went way beyond those areas and into addressing the increasingly worrying area of identity fraud.
I have to say that this is a Government who are prone, on occasions, to making hasty decisions on security and border control issues. There was the issue of control orders, which the Government decided they could not countenance but then found they had to bring back in all but name. Then there was the Government’s determination to opt out of EU directives on justice and home affairs issues, only to find, when reason prevailed, that it was in the national interest to opt back in to the key matters. Perhaps this was when the Government finally appreciated that Europe and co-operation were not the causes of security issues and other problems, but rather the potential solutions to them.
Given this Government’s track record in this area of, on occasions, acting first and thinking second, the issue raised by my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours deserves not to be hastily dismissed as it has been on previous occasions. Instead, the case that my noble friend has made today deserves to be considered carefully in the light of the current situation—particularly in respect of increasing identity fraud, the need for identity assurance, the threat of terrorist activity and apparent levels of illegal immigration—and given an evidence-based response, irrespective of whether the Government decide they are going to change their approach or not.
I hope that that is what the Government’s line will be today: that, without any commitment to change their current stance, they will nevertheless set up a review of the advantages or otherwise of the introduction of an ID system giving identity insurance, including looking at the position in other countries that have such systems and the benefits or otherwise that those systems actually bring—an issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Scriven.
In today’s environment, all measures that might further enhance security and address other significant problems and issues, including identity fraud, merit careful and full consideration of their advantages and disadvantages so that decisions made on what measures it is in the interest of our nation and our citizens to adopt are clearly evidence-based.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, for securing this debate and continuing an exchange which we had when he raised his Question in your Lordships’ House recently.
At the outset, let me say that I may well disappoint the noble Lord by the nature of my response, because the Government’s position is that identity cards as described—and certainly as introduced by the previous Labour Government—failed essential tests in that they were expensive. I realise that the sums talked about— £85 million—may not in the current scheme of things seem large, but back in times of austerity in 2010 they were very significant. Where something was not delivering the expected benefits, the decision was made to use that funding elsewhere.
I totally agree with the noble Lord’s analysis of a growing problem. We need to look at it very carefully. A number of noble Lords spoke about the changing nature of commerce and the way the state interacts with citizens, which raise a number of serious questions about how we establish our identity and keep services and information safe. That is why the Government issue a number of identity documents at present. Some 54 million people—84% of the population—have a passport. Increasingly, those passports carry biometric data, which can be used at special e-border gates that are being introduced. Sixty per cent of the population carry a photo driving licence. I understand that that does not apply to the noble Lords, Lord Berkeley and Lord Harris, but a large proportion of the population does.
Several noble Lords rightly pointed to the fact that, outside of identity cards, there is an EU agreement that all people coming from outside the EEA into that area for a period in excess of six months should be required to have a biometric residence permit. So far, 2 million of those documents have been issued. Moreover, there is a similar European requirement for an application registration card for those claiming asylum in any EEA member country. That applies in this country as well.
I should say at this point that I fully support the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, about collaboration with our European colleagues on security grounds being critical to the safety and security of people in this country. I shall come to some of the measures to which he referred later.
The first point is that there are already a large number of established and robust identity documents. The British passport is recognised as a gold standard in the international community, in terms of its ability to frustrate the fraudsters and those who would seek to copy these documents. Then there is the legislation we introduced just last year on specialist printing presses, which ought to be clamped down on—and the penalties should be increased.
So we have, first, already a large number of identity documents that could be called upon in certain circumstances to establish and verify people’s identity.
Would the Minister confirm that there are no biometric data in the form to which I referred in my contribution for those 600 UK citizens who have gone to join ISIS and who may well return to the United Kingdom in the near future to carry out terrorist offences? Would he confirm that we do not hold biometric data on those persons, unless they committed a crime in the United Kingdom in the period before they left to go to Syria or Iraq?
Well, in one way, of course, that would be the answer. But let me unfold this, if I can. First, as a result of the counterterrorism legislation that we introduced last year, the Government are now able to intervene and seize someone’s passport before they actually leave the country. Secondly, as a result of that legislation there is the ability to have a controlled or managed return for the individual to this country. Additional passenger name recognition registration information needs to be supplied in advance, and since April, we have introduced exit checks for people leaving this country. Therefore, those people would have needed genuine passports, which would have been checked at the border.
We do not know the specific type of passports they were travelling with in that instance. But additional elements have been introduced to improve our security, and I may just go through a few of them. Certainly, the passenger name records directive was agreed at the Justice and Home Affairs Council following the Paris attacks last year. We have the biometric residence permit, the application registration card, and the Prüm requirements for the exchange of databases. We are part of the Schengen information-sharing system with our European colleagues, and we are going to be part of the second-generation Schengen system. We are part of the European criminal records information system for sharing data across borders. Of course, I appreciate that people will feel that additional information is required, which is one reason why we are introducing the Investigatory Powers Bill. We are also investing heavily in our border security: £380 million of investment is going into the borders and immigration citizenship system, and the digital services for the border security programme, to which we have committed. We have committed an additional £64.5 million to the Channel ports to improve security there, and we have announced a further £1.9 billion to be spent on intelligence and security matters.
That is a lovely list of what is happening and what he is doing, but did the Minister read the piece in the Guardian on Monday, which I briefly referred to, which said that two of the terrorists came and in out through Dover without being checked? I remember that some time last year before the election, when the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, was a Minister, I complained that lorries and cars were not being checked going into Dover, and her answer was that if we checked everyone we would cause a traffic jam. That is a pretty bad reason.
The short answer is no by my noble friend’s definition, but at the principal ports of entry and departure 100% are checked.
Let me cover some of the additional points that have been raised. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, raised some very interesting points about prisoner numbers. I will share them with the Ministry of Justice and look at whether there could be greater use of existing identity numbers for people in prisons to allow better and easier access to different sorts of information.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, made the point that better identity information might lead to greater tax revenues. The UK has one of the smallest tax gaps in the world, which is a reflection not only of the effectiveness of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs but of the tax rates that are levied on people.
On the argument that we ought to have more information in fewer places, to the point where we receive all information in one place, as the noble Lord, Lord Maxton, postulated might happen in future, multiple sources of data help reduce some security risks. If all DWP, health, passport, criminal record, DVLA, HMRC, DBS and DNA data were in one place, it would make their cybersecurity extremely vulnerable. My noble friend Lady Shields is Minister for Internet Safety and Security, and I will make sure that the contents of this debate and noble Lords’ contributions to it are drawn to her attention.
It is right to talk about the balance between liberty and security, as the noble Lords, Lord Scriven and Lord Oates, said, but it is also correct that without security there can be no liberty. However, their points were made, and I have noted them. An important guarantee of those liberties is the rigorous, independent system for checking where access may have occurred. For example, we have a Biometrics Commissioner, an Information Commissioner and even a Surveillance Camera Commissioner. They are all important guarantees to citizens that their information is handled carefully.
The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, mentioned the Disclosure and Barring Service. I shall write to the noble Viscount about that. There is a service standard on the Disclosure and Barring Service which would be substantially less than the three-month to four-month term that he mentioned. We will therefore need to find out why, in those particular circumstances, that was not being met.
The noble Lord, Lord Blair, challenged me—this is a very important point—to say from a Conservative perspective why Conservatives are so opposed to this. As a number of noble Lords have mentioned, this is not an ideological position; it was a Conservative Government who first introduced and discussed the idea of having an identity card, so it is not something to which we as a party are ideologically opposed. However, we have hardly been guilty of changing our mind on this at frequent intervals; we set out our position very clearly, from 2005 onwards, that we were opposed to ID cards. I recall taking part in debates from the other side of the House during the passage of that legislation and around that time, so we have been very clear for 10 years that we do not believe that to be the way forward.
The noble Lord, Lord Blair, is a distinguished former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. As we were preparing for this debate, I asked what representations we had received from the police and security services saying they believed that an ID card as proposed would be essential for them in tackling fraud or crime.
Let me finish this point, then I shall come to that one. The point that I was making is that this is not something that has been repeatedly asked for. We are not repeatedly approached by ACPO, the College of Policing or the security services asking us to consider reintroducing it. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Harris, will appreciate that that is not an insignificant point; there is no growing clamour from the police and security services that our society is at risk and there is a great gap here. What they are asking for are additional powers such as those proposed in the investigatory powers Bill and in the counterterrorism legislation that was introduced last year.
With regard to people coming to this country, where the noble Lords, Lord Scriven and Lord Oates, both had a point was in saying that where countries have ID cards there is little evidence that their crime levels are significantly lower than ours—our crime levels continue to fall—that their experience of terrorism was greater or less or was affected by that, or that they had less legal migration to the country. Through the Immigration Bill, we are seeking to make it much more difficult for those people who are here illegally to operate within this country—to gain employment, get a driving licence or a bank account, or to rent accommodation. All those things are being put forward in this system.
As I draw to a close, I shall deal briefly with the point made my noble friend Lord Attlee, who asked about DNA. We have looked at the match of DNA. One of the things that we have signed up to is the exchange of DNA databases. I know he is arguing that the DNA database ought to be much more widely held, and even compulsory. We would not go that far, but we believe that DNA can play a crucial role in resolving crimes and acting as a deterrent. That is why we signed up to the Prüm measures, which will allow those exchanges of information to be made.
A number of other points were raised in the debate, but I can simply say that the Government have certainly not set their face against this in an ideological way. We have considered the case that has been made and have found it wanting. That debate will continue. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, said in his introduction that this area of debate will not go away. I suspect that it will not; we will continue to look at it but will also make vigorous and critical arguments as to the many things we are doing to maintain our security and keep our civil liberties in place as well.
My Lords, I am indebted to all noble Lords who have spoken. To the Liberal Democrats who spoke during the debate I say that I fully recognise the traditional commitment to civil liberties of the Liberal Party and its successor, the Liberal Democrats, but I ask them to ponder my case. If my liberty is compromised due to the unfettered and unaccountable actions of another, I have been subject to an injustice. In those circumstances the card helps protect my liberty. That is at the heart of the case that many of us have put. I therefore say to the Liberal Democrats that it may be that in these times they have the whole argument the wrong way round and that they should be thinking more in terms of protecting those whose liberty is accosted or compromised.
The comments made by the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, on the inaccuracy of biometrics were very interesting. Would he refer me after the debate or at some later stage to the sources of that information? I promise him that I shall read them in some detail. I thank the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, for his comments on DNA and, in particular, for his reference to the National DNA Database being secure. Of course, he acted as a Minister here for a department that was responsible for that area of government policy.
I thank my noble friend Lord Berkeley for reinforcing my comment that survival without ID in the United Kingdom is possible; indeed, you can operate outside the system without paying taxes while enjoying all the services. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Blair of Boughton, for pointing out that the ID card could be a powerful tool in investigating criminal activity.
I fully support my noble friend Lord Simon’s comments on the need to expedite criminal background checks. That is a problem at the moment and the card would certainly help in doing that.
I am very interested in the advanced thinking and perceptive thoughts of my noble friend Lord Maxton, who talked about smartcards for all and, ultimately, the chip in the hand. Can we imagine a society in which we will have a chip in the arm or hand which holds all these data and which itself replaces the card?
Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has given me another subject to put on my list of benefits—that is, the benefits within the prison system of greater access to prisoner identity and how that helps the prisoner, not only the prison system. I am very grateful for the debate and I thank noble Lords.