Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120 - 139)



  Q120  Chairman: Fine. Of course, what I have said may be complete rubbish and science fiction, or it may be true. Will you be publishing, at any point between now and, say, the publication of the Bill, your best estimate of what the available technology will look like in 10 years' time? Because we would all be confident that the scanning and reading information will be a lot more portable and a lot more sophisticated in 10 years' time, which will change the operation of it. Are you going to publish your projections of how the technology will change?

  Nicola Roche: I am not sure we would be able to do that in time for publication of the Draft Bill. As you know, we have a pilot run through the UK Passport Service testing out the different biometrics that is going to run for a number of months yet, but I think we would clearly want to evaluate that and certainly we would want that information to be available to the Committee.

  Q121  Chairman: And on that you are satisfied that that is of sufficiently large number of people and scope to flush out all the problems that could come out?

  Nicola Roche: We are. We have taken expert advice on the size of sample that we need and the different technologies and yes, we are confident.

  Q122  David Winnick: In any compulsory scheme it will be necessary to register, will it not?

  Nicola Roche: Yes, it will.

  Q123  David Winnick: And those that refuse because they are so much opposed to any such scheme, what sanctions would be applied to them?

  Nicola Roche: That will clearly be for Parliament to decide through legislation.

  Q124  David Winnick: Yes, but there would be sanctions, would there not?

  Nicola Roche: There would be some penalties, yes. I think whether they are criminal or civil would need to be worked through further when we get to the stage of a decision on compulsion.

  Q125  David Winnick: Could one reasonably work on the basis that those who refuse are fined because of their principled stand, as they see it, refuse to pay the fine that would lead inevitably to imprisonment, would it not? If they persistently refused to pay a fine, the court would have little alternative.

  Nicola Roche: I do not think I could comment on that specifically, but what we do expect is that there would be widespread acceptance of the card over a number of years and the onus is clearly on us to demonstrate the benefits so that people do feel it is enhancing their liberties and protecting their identity, rather than something that they actually want to object to. So we would expect that over a number of years the number of people who do object would be relatively small.

  Q126  David Winnick: Yes, I was going to ask you that. You are working on that basis, are you, that if a compulsory scheme came into existence duly approved by Parliament and the rest, the number of people that would simply say no, their stand would be of that kind, would be so small, so insignificant, that it would not really make much difference? Is that what you are telling us?

  Nicola Roche: I think there are two things there; one, there is very, very large scale public support for an identity card scheme, over 80%. I think the second thing is in terms of a decision to move to compulsion, that is one of the factors that the Government of the day and Parliament would want to take into account in taking that decision and clearly if it was not accepted by the public, if there was going to be large scale civil disobedience, that would clearly inform the decision.

  Q127  David Winnick: It is a fact, is it not, that the last time we had identity cards which continued after the War, it was one person who took such a principled objection that led to a court case which led, very shortly afterwards, to the Government abolishing the scheme. On that basis, presumably you would not under-estimate the determination, however small a number, who take a principled stand?

  Nicola Roche: Some people do take a principled stand and in response to the consultation exercise we did get responses from those who do object in principle, but the overwhelming response from the public has been in favour.

  Q128  David Winnick: So you are not worried about the small minority?

  Nicola Roche: We believe that over a number of years the benefits of the scheme will be demonstrated and people will see it as an enhancement rather than a threat.

  Q129  Chairman: But what will you do about Mr Winnick? That is what he wanted to know and that is what the other Members of the Committee want to know.

  Nicola Roche: I am not sure.

  David Winnick: Chair, if it is between Mr Winnick and others, it is that I obey the rule of law if Parliament so decides. What I am asking, and Miss Roche has tried to answer the question, of those who take a view that regardless of the Parliament they will not be willing to accept a compulsory scheme. Time will tell.

  Q130  Mr Prosser: Mr Winnick has been talking about those who will resist it and some of the difficulties, but one of the attractions and one of the benefits for individuals is consolidating all of our IDs and bits of paper into one bit plastic. Can you give us just a feel of the mechanics of this? For instance, if my passport expires in 2006, I would be attracted perhaps to go onto an ID card, at that stage would it become an all-singing, all-dancing biometric ID card with my licence as well, because my licence otherwise would not expire until a long time? And linked to that, at present we can elect to have a plastic version of a driving licence, but I understand you still have to carry around with you a big sheet of paper explaining all the details to make it legal and functionable. I do not think we want to see that.

  Nicola Roche: In 2006 the ID card scheme is very unlikely to have come into effect. We believe that the first cards will be issued by the end of 2007-08. A passport in 2006 will have a digital photograph biometric in. Thereafter, if your driving licence came up for renewal, say in 2008, it would be issued in the format of an ID card and in order to get that you would need to pay a personal visit to one of the offices that we had designated for the purpose and give a biometric and also take some other documentation that would set out who you were and prove your identity. We would then do rigorous back office checks to absolutely establish that you were the person you were claiming to be. Once we had done that, we would register you on the central database, the National Identity Register, and then a card would be sent to you in a secure way and we will need to work out exactly how that happens. When your passport then came up for renewal, you would not have to go again or pay again for the biometric element. Your passport would be automatically issued in an ID card style. You would get your booklet as it is now, but you would also get a passport ID card that would be credit card size, as the driving licence would be. In terms of the additional documentation you would need with the driving licence, my understanding is that we have to have that to comply with EU law and that we would need to continue to do that. Is that correct, Stephen?

  Stephen Harrison: Yes, I will just slightly clarify it. The paper attachment to the plastic driving licence lists the criminal convictions. It is a record of endorsements and that is how historically we have used driving licences in this country. So it is both a permit to drive, but also records for police purposes so they can check if you are very close to your limit on points, for example, if they stop you. As driving licences develop, and I cannot say there are any firm plans for this yet, but as driving licences develop so you could record that information, for example, on a microchip, then you do not need the requirement to carry the paper counterpart. In some countries in Europe they do not bother about you not having to carry a record of your driving convictions with you. They just access a police database directly if they stop you. Was I right in thinking you were asking about combining both documents or one card is both the driving licence and the passport?

  Q131  Mr Prosser: Yes.

  Stephen Harrison: The Home Secretary certainly said it is an aspiration. That is something he would like to see. I think the problem with those current documents is that at present they have to comply to different standards. So one set of standards is set by the European Union, in the case of the driving licence, there is a common format agreed. For the passport card, the International Civil Aviation Organisation sets standards in those areas. At the moment the two are incompatible in terms of the physical layout of the card. They require information to be displayed in different formats. But we would hope to pursue arguments with those bodies over time to try to bring the standards together, but I could not say that that is going to be a short term development.

  Q132  Janet Anderson: So you could have a situation where you have a combined driving licence and identity card which would record your driving offences but it would not, for example, if you had an anti-social behaviour order out against you, record that?

  Stephen Harrison: Because the document serves both purposes, it is both there to serve the purposes of the driving licence, one option might be to record the driving conviction information on the chip so it could only be securely read by a police officer or some other authorised person, that will be one option. But as I say, there is no firm decisions on that. It could be that the information is simply retrieved online from DVLA's databases, but it is because it has the specific function of the driving licence that it records information on driving endorsements and it is purely because of that purpose, rather than having the principle of it recording wider criminal convictions.

  Nicola Roche: But on the National Identity Register only your personal identity information will be held. The information about driving convictions would not be and so if you had an anti-social behaviour order that would get nowhere near the central register.

  Q133  Mr Prosser: Do you not agree that if we are to attract people into the scheme, then this work is essential because, on the one hand, we will be saying perhaps you might have to pay your £40 or £50 or more for the privilege of having this identity card, but if they are then told that they will also have a big sheet paper to cover their driving licence function and a conventional passport to keep in their wallet, a lot of the attraction slips away. Would you agree that that is quite an important decision?

  Stephen Harrison: I think yes and the Home Secretary has sent us a very clear signal on that. I think in terms of the passport example, it is a question of border controls. If you want to travel anywhere in the world with a passport, which is what the passport gives you, then in a lot of countries they will rely on a physical stamp in the passport to show your entry clearance. But in future it may well be that information such as that could be stored electronically on a chip on a passport card, but I think when you look at the universality of the passport, the fact that you could travel anywhere to Third World countries and so forth, it would be unrealistic to expect them to have that sort of technology to record your entry clearance electronically.

  Q134  David Winnick: Would it be right to come to the conclusion that previous administrations and the present one considered, at some stage, having identity cards and dropped any such proposal?

  Nicola Roche: The idea of an identity card scheme has been considered many times since the wartime scheme was abolished. I think it is only now, when we know that there is going to be these developments in terms of making more secure documents, passports and driving licences, and the technological developments that mean we can keep identity secure and have a much greater enhancement in the way that a scheme works, that we felt that this is a real opportunity. And, as Katherine said, we really are looking at leading edge technology that will make this a scheme that will last for a number of years before we need to upgrade.

  Q135  David Winnick: So really this has come to fruition since the present Home Secretary has been in his post?

  Nicola Roche: It is work that has been ongoing and clearly within Government it is kept under review, but the work was commissioned, as we said, two years ago by the current Home Secretary and the unit set up, yes.

  Q136  Bob Russell: The commercial confidentiality; I have been thinking about what you were saying and I would like to go back to that. Is one aspect of the fact that you cannot say too much today that the possibility of one or more commercial concerns may be interested in sponsorship? It is quite a captive market, is it not?

  Stephen Harrison: In terms of having logos on the face of the cards?

  Q137  Bob Russell: Yes.

  Stephen Harrison: I think again we then come to the point of the standards for those existing documents, that if you choose to deliver the majority of the scheme through the driving licence or through the passport card option, I believe those standards preclude that sort of commercial sponsorship on the face of the card.

  Q138  Bob Russell: The Labour Party Conference delegates, I believe, they had their identity cards sponsored by a supermarket. So what is the difference in principle?

  Stephen Harrison: Because that was just a card for that particular purpose, but a passport card would have to be internationally recognised.

  Q139  Janet Anderson: How will you decide whether the technology is working? Will you set certain tests against which you will measure whether it is being effective or not.

  Katherine Courtney: I think it would be obvious if the technology were not working, but the testing that we will be going through, not only now in the feasibility analysis stage of this programme, but throughout the set up, and then conducting very rigorous end to end testing of the whole system which includes testing the business processes behind the technology and not just the technology itself, will put us in a position to be clear that it is working as designed, that it is meeting the specifications before we go live with the system and launch cards and make them available to the public. And then, once it is live and operational, you would be conducting the same performance measurement that you would on any major technological system on an ongoing basis to ensure that it continued to perform up to the required standards.

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