My Lords, the Government have no plans to introduce identity cards for British citizens.
My Lords, with Brexit, increasing levels of immigration, concerns over international terrorism, personal security, fraud, voter registration and access to public services, do not advances in biometric detail data collection now give us a new opportunity to consider introducing identity cards? We need them now. We need them urgently. I believe that the majority of the British people want them. The Liberal Democrats can no longer block them. So why not have a rethink?
My Lords, the Government’s focus is on enhancing the security of existing documents while at the same time recognising the direction of travel towards digital identities that may reduce the reliance on physical documents. Some 84% of UK citizens in this country hold a UK passport, the vast majority of which are biometric. Those who have immigration status in this country hold a biometric resident’s permit. It is not appropriate to sweep this away in favour of identity cards.
My Lords, does my noble friend, given what he has just said about passports, recognise that in order to defend our borders it is essential that immigration officers are fully aware of who people are, and that other nationality passports held by a British passport holder should be revealed when the British passport is scanned? At the moment that is not the case. The Home Office has constantly resisted my attempts to get this introduced, largely because it does not like other people’s ideas. Will he kindly see that something is done? Otherwise the Government will be failing in a big way in their responsibility to defend our sovereignty and borders.
Noble Lords will have been appalled by the murder of 32 innocent people in Brussels in March at the hands of terrorists, in a country where the carrying of national identity cards is compulsory. Can the Minister say how identity cards would make us safer in the UK when they appear not to make people in Belgium any safer?
As may be appreciated, the position of the Government is that they would not contemplate introducing identity cards at present. If they believed that their introduction would bring a material increase in security, their position would of course change.
Will the Minister be surprised to hear that when I was a Member in the other place, I held a consultation and conference on identity cards in my constituency? One of the responses that most surprised people was from married women—most but not all from minority ethnic communities—who said that they had no access to their passports, that they did not have a bank card or a savings account and that they could not prove who they were. Indeed, some of them said that when they had become victims of domestic violence and had gone to Bristol City Council, they were told that they could not be rehoused because they could not prove who they were. They said to me: “If you allow me to have an identity card, I would be someone”. Have the Government thought about those issues?
We have heard in the course of today’s debate about the rise in attacks against minorities. One thing that concerned minorities was that if you introduced an identity card it would open the door to harassment of people who speak a foreign tongue or with an accent, or you might have victimisation of people with a different colour of skin. There was a sense in which ID cards would create those sorts of problems for people from minorities. Does my noble friend agree that the answer to the issue she raised is to have better facilities for people who experience domestic violence and oppression within their communities and from their partners? That is the answer, not identity cards.
I accept that the plans for ID cards got out of hand from when they started, at the time when I first went to the Home Office. But the Minister, as Home Office Minister, must know that this country is one of the easiest to work in illegally. That is one of the greatest pull factors for the merchants sometimes of death who traffic in people. Couple that with no ID card and it is money in the bank for these people. First we should stop it being made so easy to work illegally. That goes hand in glove with securing people’s identity. The two things should be done together.
My Lords, one of the main reasons to have the card is for a person to protect their identity and get access to all the things that can now be done digitally online. When I started the cybersecurity policy and we did all the work with the banks and stock exchanges, we found that it was best to have cards for individuals, with biometrics that can be used with computers—for people’s own security. All this other stuff about checking up on people and everything is a sideline as far as I am concerned. It is actually to save the identity and personal details of the individuals in this country and enable them to get digital access to all the new systems that are coming. The only way of doing that, as we found with the banks and stock exchanges, is to have some sort of card—calling it an identity card gets everyone terribly excited—that has biometrics on to let them do it safely.