Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60 - 79)



  Q60  Bob Russell: And of the applicant nations?

  Nicola Roche: I do not have that information but I could get it and send it to you.[2]

For further information see Ev 198 footnote 26.

  Q61  Bob Russell: If you could, that would be helpful. So we are almost the odd one out at the moment?

  Nicola Roche: We are, along with Ireland and Denmark, yes.

  Q62  Bob Russell: So what lessons can we learn from other countries' experience, both the European Union and indeed around the world, where other countries do have ID, either compulsory or voluntary? Indeed, are there any voluntary ones?

  Stephen Harrison: Yes, the countries which have strict compulsory schemes are Belgium, Germany, Spain and Greece. The others have voluntary schemes, but there the level of card coverage is usually so high, France is often quoted as an example, that it is just a natural expectation that one would be able to produce a form of ID that it is almost de facto compulsory. We have looked at the experience of some of the countries. In particular, we paid visits to Italy, Sweden and The Netherlands to look at their particular schemes to see what lessons could be learnt from there. Italy at the moment is moving from a paper-based card system, an old cardboard type card used in the wartime, and replacing those with an electronic plastic card which can also record fingerprint information. We actually had a meeting with them earlier this week. The Netherlands has a scheme which bears a lot of similarity to what this scheme might look like in a few years' time in that everybody does not carry an ID card or is required to have an ID card. You have existing forms of identification like passports and driving licences and residence permits and they all form part of one over-arching scheme.

  Q63  Bob Russell: In your evaluation, have you rejected anything that any of the other countries have which they think is a good idea but which you suspect is not? And are there any things you have now incorporated which you had not thought of until you saw them?

  Stephen Harrison: At the moment the discussions we have had with other countries have been ones of principle and how their schemes operate at a very broad strategic level. We did not get down to individual discussions about particular technologies or approaches for how things work issues. Obviously there are different schemes throughout Europe. Some schemes are more centralised than others. Some rely on a central database but then issue cards locally. Some keep all of the data held locally. We have made some good contacts with colleagues in other European countries and we will need to keep those going as we develop our plans.

  Q64  Bob Russell: Bearing in mind all those different countries with different systems both within the EU and out, in what way will the cards be mandatory for foreign nationals?

  Stephen Harrison: The card scheme will work on the basis that their residence permits would be an acceptable form of identity card. So it would form part of the family of ID cards and it will be possible to require foreign nationals coming to the country for a period of longer than three months to register and obtain the document. That is not the law as it currently stands, so that would form part of the legislative change.

  Q65  Bob Russell: Would that be compatible with the constraints of European law?

  Stephen Harrison: Yes.

  Q66  Bob Russell: So will they have to carry them at all times or will they, like a driving licence, have time to produce them?

  Stephen Harrison: It is not compulsory to carry the card. I think that in terms of, particularly, cases of immigration enforcement, for example, if you look perhaps towards the harder end scenarios, if you take examples at the moment with the Immigration Service, if an asylum seeker works illegally but is caught by the Immigration Service in that situation, they will not be carrying their application registration card because that says "Employment prohibited" in very big letters, but is possible for the Immigration Officer to make a check of the biometric, the thumbprint, directly against the database and that then brings up the fact that they have registered for asylum and therefore they are not entitled to work.

  Q67  Bob Russell: Nearer to home, the Republic of Ireland, the Ireland Act of 1949, and it has been indicated that they do not have an ID card scheme at the moment, so how will you take into account the existing statutory provisions concerning Irish nationals if the UK brings in an ID scheme?

  Nicola Roche: As you know, with Ireland we are part of a common travel area as well as with other parts of the British Isles and therefore there are no border checks between Ireland and the UK. The scheme we are proposing is based on the residence, so an Irish person resident in the UK would not have to have a card until the compulsory phase. Once we move to compulsory phase, everybody resident in the UK would need to have one. Before that phase, an Irish resident would be treated either exactly as a person born in Britain with a British passport under common travel area arrangements and, therefore, when they come to renew their driving licence, that would be issued in an ID card format, or they could opt to have a voluntary card if they wanted one, or for Irish citizens if they chose to exercise their rights as an EEA national they could have a residence permit issued as an ID card.[3]

  Q68  Bob Russell: So you could have a situation where citizens of the six counties of Northern Ireland would have a voluntary almost, but from what is being said, virtually a compulsory ID card system to circulate within the United Kingdom, but citizens of the Republic of Ireland would not?

  Nicola Roche: No, people from Ireland resident in the UK would be treated in exactly the same way as everybody else, including in Northern Ireland.

  Q69  Mr Singh: In these countries, especially where the carrying of the card is compulsory, or to have one is compulsory, do those countries believe that their ID scheme has helped their fight against crime and their fight against illegal immigration? Is there any evidence, if they do believe that, to back up their claims?

  Nicola Roche: Stephen may be able to add a little bit more from his discussions with other European countries, but the case that comes to mind, when you said that, was the Belgian court judgment about some lorry driver facilitator for illegal immigrants who did say that he thought one of the pull factors to the UK was the fact that we did not have an ID card scheme and that is why Belgium was not seen as a country that was attracting illegal immigrants on the same scale, but that was clearly his judgment. Our judgment is that an ID card scheme, as we have set it out, would help us tackle illegal migration and illegal working.

  Q70  David Winnick: How much is all this going to cost?

  Stephen Harrison: The Home Secretary in his statement set out the set up costs that we anticipate over the initial three years of the scheme, which totals £186 million, it is a 36/60/90 split. What those set up costs buy for you is; the central database on which we would record the identity information; the other parts of the IT infrastructure, which would allow you to do the checks that Katherine mentioned to properly validate somebody's identity and the network of equipment that will be required around local offices so that biometric information could be recorded for the population as a whole. I think it is worth observing that probably most of those costs may well have to be incurred anyway if there is international movement towards biometric passports.

  Q71  David Winnick: On the basis of a voluntary arrangement and then a compulsory one, what at the end of the day would be the total estimated cost?

  Stephen Harrison: We then have the set of costs there, as I have mentioned. We then have a period at which cards would be issued to the population and the Government's policy position on that is that those costs should be recovered through charges . . .

  Q72  David Winnick: But could you just give us the figure of what it is estimated to be at the end of day, the cost involved, whoever meets the bill? We will come to that in a moment, but what do you believe is the sum which we should be working on if it comes from both the voluntary stage and the compulsory stage? What is the round figure?

  Stephen Harrison: I think in terms of looking at that, forgive me for trying to give you a sort of lengthier answer on this, I think it depends at what point one draws the line because in a sense the scheme . . .

  Q73  David Winnick: At the end of the day, if Parliament approves, what would be the round figure? Is that difficult to answer?

  Stephen Harrison: What is the end of the day in that sense? Even if you reach a point—

  Q74  Chairman: Mr Harrison, in the Government's consultation document last year you published a figure £3,145 million.

  Stephen Harrison: Yes.

  Q75  Chairman: Is that still your estimate?

  Stephen Harrison: There was actually a range of figures which were published and what that was based on was adding costs and we talk about the period at which you cut it off. That was based . . .

  Q76  Chairman: Is that our best figure?

  Stephen Harrison: We have better estimates of some of the detailed costs that have gone on.

  Q77  David Winnick: You seem to be rather evasive about this. I understand you are not a politician, Mr Harrison, but you seem to be following in certain footsteps of politicians, perhaps including myself, you do not want to give a straight answer. All I want to know, Mr Harrison, I know it is difficult and all the rest of it, if you can give some sort of round figure. Now, the Chair has quoted one from the consultation document, just give the round figure if there is, as I have said before, at the end of the day a compulsory scheme. How much is it going to cost at this stage?

  Stephen Harrison: On the consultation paper there was a range of costs and it varied from about £1.3 to about £3.1 billion. We believe that if you look at a comparable costing for the period of that scheme, the consultation period envisaged which was 13 years, then our cost estimates still lie within that range.

  Q78  David Winnick: Which range? Quote the figure yourself. Which range?

  Stephen Harrison: The 1.3 to 3.1 billion. There are a lot of detailed assumptions underlying that cost. Our information gets better as we do more analysis and we learn more. We would be happy on a confidential basis to share some of those assumptions with Members of the Committee. What we are concerned about at this stage is just the commercial confidentiality of giving too much away at this stage before entering into commercial . . .

  Q79  David Winnick: You have been very cautious, Mr Harrison. Congratulations. Would it be right to say that, as with other estimates, one will find that the actual cost is substantially more than what is being planned at this moment?

  Stephen Harrison: We do our best to identify all of the costs that we can. In terms of our work on costs, we have been quite conservative in our estimates. As I say, the information we can share with you, and we can give to you in confidence, I hope would illustrate that. Of course, the work that Katherine outlined in terms of the further work on feasibility and testing will help us actually to understand whether the assumptions that we have made to date actually work out in practice and so over time we would expect the certainty of our cost estimates to increase as they are informed by real experience.

2   Note by Witnesses: All but Latvia and Lithuania have cards. Slovenia has a compulsory card but only for those citizens who do not have any other form of photo ID. EEA States which are not in the EU: Norway: No identity cards. Iceland: No identity cards, but a national identity number and a citizens' database. Liechtenstein: Cards may be obtained on request, but it is not necessary to carry them. Switzerland: Swiss nationals have cards which are not compulsory. The cards are valid for travel within the EU. The details are exactly the same as in a passport and both documents can be issued at the same time (Switzerland is not a member of the EEA, but Swiss nationals benefit from the free movement rights provided by the Treaties). Back

3   Note by witness: The status of Irish nationals under the Ireland Act 1949 would remain unchanged. In practice, they could, as now, choose to be treated on an equivalent basis to British nationals or as citizens of an EEA country. Back

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