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National Identity Cards

Volume 779: debated on Tuesday 14 March 2017

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have received from public authorities since 1 January 2017 on the case for introducing national identity cards in the United Kingdom.

My Lords, Her Majesty’s Government are not aware of receiving any representations from public authorities on the case for introducing national identity cards.

My Lords, following the Brexit decision and its possible implications for national identity cards, have the Government not detected the mood change and change in public attitudes on their introduction, not only in the country but in the Commons, in this House and indeed on their own Benches? Why cannot we now sit down and have a sensible conversation with the Government on the way forward? We could start by supporting the application before the Liaison Committee for an ad hoc committee inquiry into ID cards to be set up in this Session of Parliament.

My Lords, I have not detected any more of an appetite for national identity cards since the Brexit discussions began. The Government will certainly have to think about identity post Brexit, but that will be the subject of discussions and negotiations.

My Lords, those such as me who used to oppose identity cards have actually changed their minds. Time has moved on and the changes in IT and terrorism are so important. When the world changes, we should change too.

My Lords, we believe that the investment we are making in better security, use of intelligence and cybersecurity is a much more effective use of resources.

My Lords, the Government’s position on ID cards is clear, and we support it. However, an even greater intrusion into privacy has been highlighted in today’s Guardian by the Surveillance Camera Commissioner, who said that:

“The problem is when new and advancing technology is brought together by well-meaning people that actually invades people’s privacy, or worse, leaves privacy at risk of theft or uploading on YouTube”.

He concludes that,

“regulators and the government were struggling to keep up with the pace of technological change”.

What are the Government doing about it?

One of the reasons why the Conservative Party opposed identity cards was because of the civil liberties issue which the noble Lord outlined. However, he is absolutely right to point out that the Government should also always be mindful of privacy versus the advances in technology that such information can give us.

My Lords, given that most terrorists and professional criminals use multiple identities in committing crime, is it not self-evident that a biometric identity card would be an advantage in changing policy?

My Lords, the biometric card would not be any more robust than some of the systems which we have in place. In fact, there is evidence that it is just as liable to counterfeiting as other methods.

My Lords, how would ID cards help the United Kingdom avoid terrible attacks such as the ones in Paris, Nice and Berlin?

My noble friend raises a good question. Many European countries have identity cards but we have seen no evidence that they offer any greater protection than we have in this country.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that, since exit checks were cancelled about 20 years ago, we have not had the slightest idea who is on this island? Will the Government therefore look again at this issue and perhaps take up an idea first proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, that we could start with passports, which are already owned by 80% of the country’s population? There is surely a way forward here and we should take it.

The noble Lord has highlighted the merit of exit checks, which we have previously discussed. They were reintroduced in May 2015 and those data will prove valuable.

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Green. If biometrics are so easily attacked and discredited, why have the Government introduced them for passports?

The identity card was a tackle-all type of card. The Government are now trying to be far more robust at identity assurance from a problem-solving perspective rather than seeking a particular solution.

My Lords, have not reports suggested that the way to deal with terrorism on these shores is through targeted, intelligence-led police operations rather than mass surveillance?

My Lords, has my noble friend the Minister read the early evidence to the Economic Affairs Committee’s investigation into Brexit and the labour market? I do not want to prejudge the conclusions of that report but it makes for interesting reading, highlights the significant difficulties in both measuring and controlling migration, and provides some compelling reasons for revisiting the case for identity cards.

Unfortunately, I do not agree with my noble friend. The approach that we have adopted in successive immigration Acts is to make it harder for illegal migrants to live and work in the UK and easier for us to remove them.

My Lords, I refer to my interests in the register. Given the decision that has been taken to leave the European Union, and the fact that a timetable is about to be established for that which sets an end date, can the noble Baroness tell us what assessment the Government are making of the need for better identity assurance—for example, for the citizens of Northern Ireland, those citizens who wish to use our health service, and, indeed, to tackle the employment issues that have just been raised by her noble friend? Those are urgent questions. What assessment are the Government making?

The noble Lord is absolutely right: they are important questions. We are considering a range of options for our future immigration system. It would be absolutely wrong of me to set out further positions at this stage.