My Lords, Her Majesty’s Government have made it clear that there are no plans to reintroduce identity cards, and therefore there is no need to consult the National Police Chiefs’ Council.
My Lords, that is very bad news indeed. Now that we have evidence of the availability on the dark web, at a price, of counterfeit passports, driving licences, national insurance cards, credit cards, credit references, NHS treatment entitlement cards, European health insurance cards, utility bills, work permits, bank statements and examination certification, is it not now time to return to the whole issue of national identity cards? We cannot escape this debate any longer.
My Lords, the coalition Government were right to scrap the identity card and the national identity register. It impacted severely on civil liberties and, more importantly, on state intrusion. Is the Minister aware that a very serious rift is developing between the Muslim community and the Prevent strategy that the Government have established? What consultations are taking place with this community to ensure that we are able to deal with those people who are born and radicalised in this country?
My Lords, the noble Lord brings up a number of areas. He is absolutely right to bring up the subject of civil liberties in terms of identity cards, because that was one of the concerns about them in the first instance. The Prevent strategy aims to protect people against the threat of radicalisation, not to punish them. In my previous role in communities and local government, I was aware of some fantastic community work, much of it led by the Church, which is helping people to come together to discuss those areas that unite communities rather than divide them.
My Lords, for the life of me, I do not understand why the Government have set their mind so firmly against the idea of having an identity card or identity document. It is common practice in many parts of the world. If the Government, in their rush to Brexit, wish to control immigration, it seems to me that the most obvious thing they should do is to have some form of common identification to show that people are United Kingdom citizens.
My Lords, we do have common systems of identification: 84% of people in this country have a passport and 60% have a driving licence. As the noble Lord said, many European countries have identity cards, but we have not seen any evidence that they offer any greater protection than we have in this country.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that we are quite right not to have identity cards for the very reason given by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, that all those documents are forgeable? Surely what is needed is a unique number for every citizen—because if a state does not know who its citizens are for national security, good governance and everything else, it is not in business. If there were a single number to which biometrics could be attached, it would be a big advance. We do not need the actual card.
I think that my noble friend is saying the same thing as me but in a different way. In this country we have passports and driving licences. As I said, there is no evidence that identity cards have improved security in the European countries that have them.
My Lords, as the Minister who introduced the original identity register and card—I still have mine—I ask whether the noble Baroness would concede that, if people do not like the term “identity card”, it might be a possible way forward for all British citizens over 16 to have a mandatory passport and for all non-British citizens to carry a card that registers their status in this country. Surely that would be a way round what has become a very sterile argument.
My Lords, I would congratulate the noble Lord on introducing the identity card—but the Government do not agree with them and his identity card is probably invalid by now. I cannot help but repeat that we have passports. In fact, our passports now, particularly the e-passports, where facial identity can be cross-referenced with the actual document, are an improvement on what we had before.
My Lords, can the Minister name one country anywhere in the world whose citizens have identity cards or a number equating to their identity and has fewer problems with regard to benefit fraud, immigration or terrorism? Is there anywhere across the world were these problems have been completely eradicated on the basis of the demands of those who want to see this form of identification?
My Lords, one of the greatest civil liberties is to not have your identity stolen. We have found in the banking world, and other worlds, that by having biometric cards that identify clearly who you are this can be avoided; these cards cannot be duplicated easily because they are biometric. I have no doubt whatever, and I would be interested to know whether or not the Minister agrees, that we will inevitably end up having a card—whatever we call it—in order for our people not to have their identity stolen.
I do recognise what the noble Lord said, particularly in terms of identity fraud. One of the things we are doing is working with banks because it is such a huge financial loss when people fraudulently open bank accounts or take money from other people’s accounts. E-passports now have facial recognition, which is a very good system of identification—but we will not be moving to the identity card scheme.