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Security: ID Cards

Volume 783: debated on Thursday 20 July 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what consideration has been given to the introduction of ID cards as a contribution to the maintenance of security in the United Kingdom.

My Lords, Her Majesty’s Government have considered the introduction of ID cards and have concluded that they would not contribute significantly to the maintenance of security in the United Kingdom.

My Lords, the Government’s policy paper on EU citizens who wish to live in the United Kingdom proposes that up to 3.2 million EU citizens would need to apply for settled status supported by an identity document which could include personal data, a photograph and, according to paragraph 35 of the paper, possibly even nationally recorded biometric data; in other words, a national identity card-like document that will open the door to entitlements. With national security in mind, why not use the introduction of these identity documents as the test bed for a national roll-out of identity cards for us all throughout the country?

I have to pay tribute to the noble Lord’s tenacity on this point. He is absolutely right to observe that, as we leave the EU, we are entering new territory. We said in the EU citizens policy paper that all EU citizens and their families in the UK, regardless of when they arrived, will, on our exit from the EU, need to obtain an immigration status in EU law. They will need to apply to the Home Office for permission to stay, which will be evidenced through a residence document. The form it will take may be digital in the longer term, but when introduced it might be similar in format to the current biometric residence permit.

My Lords, does the Minister remember the murder of Detective Constable Stephen Oake in Manchester by a man with the name, apparently, of Kamel Bourgass, who was also convicted of the ricin plot in 2003? Does she further recall that one of the things we know about Kamel Bourgass is that that is not his real name and we have no idea of his identity? The same is true of one of the people convicted of the attempted bombings on 21 July 2007. Why we are resisting something that, given the terrorist situation we are currently in, must be an advantage to the country?

I hope that the noble Lord will agree that while many European countries have identity cards, there is no evidence that they offer any greater protection than we have in this country. I think he will also appreciate that better security, better use of intelligence and better cybersecurity are very efficient uses of resource in looking at this problem.

My Lords, I hope my noble friend the Minister recognises that knowing who people are is a pretty crucial ingredient of national security. I am not particularly keen on identity cards because a competent forger nowadays can forge any document, including biometrics. What is needed is a national number with biometrics, held nationally, which everyone has instead of the plethora of numbers, most of which mean nothing at all. Will the Minister at least study the need for and the possibility of introducing a national identity number?

My Lords, we have many numbers that help in assuring our identity. I am not sure that this would add to the mix. I am certainly happy to look at this, but I do not think there is any evidence that a national identity number would improve security in this country. I have already outlined to the noble Lord, Lord Blair, how this country is helping to make us safer.

My Lords, under the coalition Government we found ourselves trying to check who was on the electoral register against the national insurance number and discovering that the Government do not have, across their different departments, clear rules on which identity numbers we have. I have different numbers for my passport, the NHS and national insurance. As we move toward more of a database society, is there not an argument for considering how, in the relationship between the citizen and the state, we at least move toward common rules across departments for recording who we are, where we are, where we live and so forth?

My Lords, the Government’s Verify system helps in regard to identity. We are certainly looking, for when the UK leaves the EU, at just what that residency document will look like.

My Lords, as well as the very persuasive arguments by my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours, all the work we have done in the cyber world has shown that the best way of stopping identity theft is for people to have a card with biometric data that they can use when accessing things such as the Government Gateway. More work is being done digitally online. This will become something that people will almost certainly have to have. A passport does not really cover that. When you add all the other benefits—for example, recognising who people really are–surely it is overwhelmingly desirable to go down this route.

The noble Lord mentions the Verify system, which is a very good way for people to prove who they are online. There are a mixture of different ways in which people can prove identity for different purposes, and the noble Lord is right to raise that.

My Lords, in elections in Northern Ireland, voters must provide an identification document, such as a driving licence, passport or social security card, to be able to vote. This is acceptable to the electors in Northern Ireland and causes no objections whatever. Surely the same could apply to the ID card throughout the UK in this current security situation.

My Lords, the Government have announced plans to pilot the use of various forms of documentation as proof of identity when voting in specified local authority areas during the local government elections in 2018. There are no plans, however, to establish a specific electoral identity card pilot at this stage.