To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions Ministers have had in the last year with United Kingdom security and border control authorities on the introduction of personal identity cards.
My Lords, in 2010 the coalition Government decided to scrap the ID card scheme and the associated national identity register because it was expensive and represented a substantial erosion of civil liberties. While many countries have identity cards, we have not seen any evidence that they offer greater protection against terrorism or greater control at the border. The Government are not planning to revisit that decision.
Many people would contest those conclusions. Does the Minister accept that the issues of national security, crime, protection against fraud, and entitlements are of concern right across this House and across the political divide? With that in mind, would it not be helpful if the Liaison Committee, which is about to select its ad hoc committee inquiry subjects for next year, were to support an inquiry into national identity cards? I appeal to Members across the House to write to Philippa Tudor, the clerk to the Liaison Committee, supporting this year’s application for an ID card ad hoc committee inquiry? If not, once again, it is likely that the application will be rejected.
My Lords, I understand the noble Lord’s disappointment that when he applied to the Liaison Committee last time for an ad hoc committee on this very subject, his bid was not successful. There were 35 bids and only four ad hoc committees were established: I hope he accepts that his disappointment was shared by others. An email went to all noble Lords—I think it was last week—from the noble Lord, Lord McFall, inviting bids for the next tranche of ad hoc committees for this Session. The decision will be made by the Liaison Committee, on which the Government have only one member. The noble Lord appealed to the whole House to support his bid. The notion that the Government could stand in the way of the noble Lord’s bid, which I think was implied in some way, implies that my noble friend who sits on the Liaison Committee could go around discouraging people from supporting it—like Henry Fonda in “12 Angry Men”—which is fanciful. However, the noble Lord has launched his manifesto on the Floor of your Lordships’ House and his fate now rests with the Liaison Committee.
My Lords, in 2003 the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, who was Home Secretary at the time—in the Government of the party opposite, of course—published Identity Cards: The Next Steps. Anybody who reads it will realise that the reasons put forward are even more meaningful now than they ever were in that period of history. I totally support what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, is proposing: I think it is hugely important to this country.
I am grateful for the intervention of my noble friend. I am genuinely envious of those, such as him and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, who think that the case for an identity card system is made, and equally envious of those who come with equal conviction to the other side of the argument. I say that as someone who, with my party, has voted both for and against identity cards. Having revisited this subject recently with some assistance from the Home Office, it seems to me that introducing identity cards now would be a 20th-century solution to a 21st-century problem, since so much identity fraud is now online and forgeries have become much more sophisticated. Other countries are now moving away from physical identity cards to other forms of digital identification of who people are.
My Lords, if Ministers had discussed identity cards with border security services, no doubt they would have said, “We don’t need ID cards —we need stronger border controls, including effective exit checks”. With passenger numbers increasing, why have the Government reduced the budget of the Border Force, forcing it to cut the number of staff at UK airports? This morning two-thirds of the e-gates at Heathrow Airport terminal 5 were closed because of a lack of staff, resulting in queues that will only get worse if we have a damaging Tory Brexit.
I think exit checks were reintroduced in May 2015. I will correct that in writing if that is not the case. The Government want tourists to be able to visit this country and not spend a disproportionate time going through passport or visa control. The last statistics I saw a few weeks ago indicated that the average time it takes to get through passport control was coming down, but I take note of the noble Lord’s representations. I agree that we should allow people to come in without undue delay.
My Lords, the Minister has not addressed the issue, which is that the Government are undertaking work at the moment and have tasked businesses with coming up with options to provide a means of identifying yourself online by using a card with biometrics. If you have a biometric card which identifies you, which is being used so that you can get online to all the government services we want to put online, what do you call it? It seems to me that it is an identity card. If we have one, why can we not use it more thoroughly?
I think what you call it is a voluntary system, as opposed to a compulsory one.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is already an identity card in existence and use? Thanks to the initiative of an organisation called Headway, people with acquired brain injuries are issued with a card which not only has on it their photograph but lists the symptoms that the brain injury has resulted in, such as speech defects or movement defects. That has been recognised by the police and is helping a great deal in preventing people with acquired brain injuries being arrested so often. It is interesting that the police, having recognised that card, are now very much in favour of an identity card, on which such information could be included.
I am sure the whole House applauds the introduction of the voluntary system which the noble Lord has just referred to. Eighty-four per cent of the people in this country have a passport. That is a perfectly feasible form of identity available to anyone who wants one.