Examination of Witnesses (Questions 660
TUESDAY 4 MAY 2004
MP, MR DESMOND
BROWNE MP, KATHERINE
Q660 Mr Cameron: But it is a change
to the current situation. At the moment, because there are no
ID cards, if the policeman stops me and I say "My name is
Des Browne" and he does not believe me, he cannot drag me
down to the station to check my identity. You seem to be saying
that in future he will be able to. That is quite an important
Mr Blunkett: I am saying in terms
of someone being asked to accompany them, as the police put it,
to the station for further investigation on the presumption that
there may well be an arrest, they can do that. It will make it
a lot easier for them in terms of very rapid and verifiable identification
but it will not change the nature of the law and the way that
it is applied.
Q661 David Winnick: Home Secretary,
clause 6 of the draft Bill covers the requirements for a move
to make it compulsory to have an ID card. This is going to be
done through affirmative resolution procedure. Should not a change
of this importance from voluntary to compulsory require primary
Mr Blunkett: No, I do not believe
that for a minute. I think that when we pass the substantive legislation,
as I hope we will, we will be making a commitment in this country
to developing the clean database with the identifiers and the
card. It is the point of practicality and technology and funding
and acceptability and purpose that will be affirmed following
a report to Cabinet and to Parliament and then an affirmative
order to be debated in both Houses. It is actually irrelevant
whether it is an affirmative or negative order actually, let us
be clear about that, the real issue is that there has been a report
that the card system itself is agreed nationally to have been
successfully implemented and is working and that both Houses of
Parliament believe that, therefore, it should become mandatory
and fully useable with the database completed. That is the issue
at stake. I say it with all temerity; if people do not want to
go down this road we will have the debate on the substantive legislation.
To do otherwise is pure prevarication, to say on a wing and a
prayer we think we would like to have this new database ID system
but what we really want to do is put it off and, therefore, come
back to the real decision on primary legislation at some unforeseeable
date in the future.
Q662 David Winnick: That will be
the subject of a good deal of comment, I am sure.
Mr Blunkett: It will.
Q663 David Winnick: You have mentioned
debate. Home Secretary, as we understand it there was quite a
debate in Cabinet at various stages over having such a measure
as an identity card. Would I be right in saying that the press
reports were pretty accurate, that there were divisions of opinion
in the Cabinet over the scheme?
Mr Blunkett: No, not that we did
not have vigorous discussion either. I am a believer in Cabinet
Government and all those who preach Cabinet Government should
welcome vigorous discussion and proper checking that when someone
puts forward a very substantial change of this sort it stands
up to scrutiny, that it has been thought through and that we have
continuing scrutiny of the detail. I agree entirely with that.
I would take with an absolute pinch of salt the people who have
been named as for or against. You have had one or two of them
in front of you already who were quite wrongly named as being
against. Were it not for the fact that we get used to this, we
would all be very aggrieved about it.
Q664 David Winnick: When you say
reports were wrong about those who were in favour and those not
in favour, does that imply there were some in the Cabinet who
were not overtaken, shall we say, by your enthusiasm for ID cards?
Mr Blunkett: I have been absolutely
clear about this for two years. There are people throughout Government
and beyond, in Parliament and beyond, who are more sceptical than
others about (a) whether we can manage the technology, (b) whether
people will find it acceptable and (c) whether the modest combined
claims that we make for the benefit will stand up to scrutiny.
I think that is a perfectly reasonable stance in a democracy.
The idea that I go on Radio 4 and do an interview with John Humphreys
and immediately everybody agrees with me is a halcyon world about
which I shall dream when I am old.
Q665 David Winnick: Home Secretary,
without sounding at all patronising, that was a very sensible
answer because clearly you accept there is a division of opinion
in the way in which you put it so diplomatically. Would you therefore
accept that the debate over ID cards, certainly in the House of
Commons, and for that matter in the Parliamentary Labour Party,
is not over and a good number of people, including some of your
own colleagues, have yet to be persuaded of the arguments that
you have put forward?
Mr Blunkett: I think the old adage
is that the party is not over until the fat lady has sung and
nothing is over in terms of Westminster until Parliament has voted
and I take none of that for granted.
Q666 David Winnick: Good answer.
Mr Blunkett: Thank you, I am very
grateful for that.
David Winnick: I am sure you are.
Q667 Mr Prosser: Home Secretary,
you might be comforted to know that on the day you published your
draft Bill I launched my local consultation in Dover and at the
moment people are voting more than ten to one in favour, albeit
on a very slow turnout.
Mr Blunkett: Fortunately the turnout
can be as slow as you like at the moment.
David Winnick: You have won over Dover.
Q668 Mr Prosser: I want to turn now
to some of the impacts of identity cards. One of the concerns
raised about identity cards by the Race Equality Impact Assessment
is that they might be abused in some circumstances by the police,
and you have agreed to study this during the consultation process.
You have said that at the very least there will be a need for
special training. Are there any specific safeguards that you have
in mind to prevent this happening?
Mr Blunkett: I think the phasing
in of the new arrangements in relation to stop and search will
help a lot. I think training needs to be sensitive to the particular
areas that are being policed, the nature of what is happening.
Over the last decade we have seen that, particularly in the Metropolitan
Police area where there has been a different form of policing
and people have learned enormous lessons since, for instance,
the Macpherson Report. That is something we need to be mindful
of in implementing any scheme of this sort.
Q669 Mr Prosser: You say that before
the move to compulsion you would want to be sure that there is
"significant coverage" of the population and also that
there is "clear public acceptance" of the principle.
How do you propose to measure these two?
Mr Blunkett: The first is easier
than the second. We will know whether people wish to accelerate
the renewal of their passports and the issuing of ID cards, the
speed with which we get to the density of take-up that is clearly
identifying the population as a whole. The report that I have
mentioned to Parliament needs to deal not simply with the numbers
but with the acceptability of the different usages and the way
in which people are comfortable with what is happening and the
technology that is available that we have discussed this afternoon.
The report itself will have to be wider merely than whether people
have enthusiastically taken it up, but how they have used it,
how comfortable they have been with it, and I think that is quite
Q670 Mr Prosser: There has been some
discussion this afternoon about the passport pilot project. That
was some months late in starting, we think that it will have less
coverage than was anticipated and will be over a shorter period.
In fact, three attempts by this Committee to meet with that group
have been postponed because of all of those delays. What is that
an indication of? Is it an indication of the complexities or difficulties
of the technology behind the ID card or something else?
Mr Blunkett: It is an indication,
firstly, that there has been a change from previous methodology
which was not as successful as the new programme. Secondly, that
it is important to get it right rather than to get it quickly,
which is what we have explored already. Thirdly, that it is the
number in the pilot, not the time. I do not know where this differential
of five or six months has come from. We want 10,000 people and,
as was being indicated a moment ago by you, a lot of people are
queuing up to be part of this right across the country, which
is very encouraging, including parts of the country where there
is not a pilot. We are enthused by that. It is the 10,000 pilot
we are interested in rather than whether it takes five or six
months. I hope very much that we can learn very rapidly from it.
The whole point of the pilot, the whole point of this process,
is to learn the lessons, and I do not mean just go through the
motions but actually learn what it is, and the development partner
and commercial consultation and the scrutiny by Parliament is
all part of that same process.
Q671 Mr Prosser: How thorough will
the testing be? For instance, will there be attempts to deceive
the system or to feed in fake and false information?
Mr Blunkett: Yes. We already did
that with the previous technology and one of the reasons why it
is important to get this pilot right is that there has been enhancement
having learnt the lessons from that. I think worldwide it has
been known, and it is one of the reasons why it has taken until
now to move to such a scheme, that it was possible in the past
to be able to defraud the equipment. Do either of you want to
say a word about this because you have been on top of it?
Katherine Courtney: I think it
is important to say that while the pilot itself is not really
about testing the robustness and scalability
of the particular biometric technologies that are being deployed,
it is about studying the enrolment process and the customer experience
and being able to validate some of the assumptions that we have
built into the business case around the time that it takes to
enrol and the customer acceptability. I am pleased to say on the
limited sample so far that is bearing out our assumptions. I am
quite pleased about that. We will be attempting to re-register
duplicate identities even with this technology, which is not being
tested as the technology that we would expect to take forward,
to gain some lessons from this experience about how robust this
particular configuration might be. Also we are considering the
security risks around the enrolment process, ie the environment
in which people enrol, the process itself, how people arrive,
how they go through having their fingerprints recorded, their
irises scanned etc to ensure things are built into the system
like the inability for somebody to replace themselves with somebody
else half way through the process so that the application is actually
reflecting more than one individual, that sort of thing. We are
building those things into the pilot and gaining a lot of experience
Q672 Mr Prosser: Finally from me,
how will you make your final assessment? How will you say, "Yes,
this works well enough to go ahead"? Will any of that assessment
be done independently?
Mr Blunkett: Yes. Do you want
to add to that?
Mr Browne: The contract for this
particular piece of work is a number of what are called deliverable
milestones. Payment will be made on the contract on the basis
of people reaching those milestones and there will be an independent
element in the assessment of those results. Tony Mansfield from
the National Physical Laboratory is an independent assessor of
progress and outcome of the trial.
Q673 Mr Singh: Home Secretary, my
colleague's constituents were overwhelmingly in favour of ID cards,
even more so than the recent MORI poll suggested, which was 80%.
That is all very well for the moment but the MORI poll also showed
that 40% are not confident that the Government can deliver the
information securely and 60% have little or no confidence in the
ability to introduce ID cards smoothly, maybe half do not want
to pay anything for an ID card. Does that suggest to you that
whatever the Mori poll shows now you could face resistance when
the time gets nearer?
Mr Blunkett: The first two are
understandable in terms of the enormity of the scheme and the
experience which I have mentioned myself earlier today, which
is why we are doing this incrementally, why we are using the renewal
of passports for domestic purposes initially. The third is a misunderstanding
and the third is about understandable failuresnot the public's
fault but the way we have explained it and we were not able to
explain this until we had agreementthat we would be using
the renewal and the greater security of passport and visa requirements
to develop the biometric. It is that which is the expensive part
of the process. The vast bulk of the cost will be incurred irrespective
of whether we move to the ID card and the clean database. I think
once people understand that, that what we are being is transparent
about the likely cost over a ten year period as the scheme builds
up rather than simply increasing the price of a passport, which
is how securer passports have been dealt with previously, then
they will understand that the small additional amount for the
use of the card and the secure database to be used in that way
is worth it. A small amount, our estimate at the moment is an
additional £4 over the ten years for those who have the passport
and, if we use them in future, driving licences. That is not the
case, of course, for people who have got neither, they would obviously
be paying the substantive sum of around £35 over the ten
Q674 Mr Singh: Home Secretary, I
understand that if somebody refuses to register they could face
civil penalties of up to £2,500. Do you envisage a situation
where taking that approach we might create ID card martyrs who
refuse to pay?
Mr Blunkett: It is precisely to
avoid people being martyrs in relation to the ID card, if they
get fined £2,500 for disobeying the law and not being able
to correctly identify themselves then the consequent enforcement
action would be on the failure to pay the fine. I think it is
very important that we do not have martyrs; certainly I think
if people were going back on an entirely different scheme 50 years,
they certainly would not have got involved in the skirmish which
led to the original post war ID card being abolished.
Q675 Mr Singh: Finally, Home Secretary,
at what age do you envisage a person should carry an ID card?
I understand that National Insurance numbers, for example, are
issued at age 16, how would that tie in with National Insurance
cards? Secondly, do you foresee any exemption for the elderly,
for example, who might be very worried about this?
Mr Blunkett: We envisage that
people on their 16th birthday would be issued with a card and
the first card they would be issued with would be free. We envisage
that those elderly people who clearly have established their identity
would be issued with a free card at a particular point we have
to decide which age group would be most appropriate. There would
be a concession for those on lower incomes more generally and
we built those costs into the totality of the scheme, as it stands
at the moment. I am hoping that we will have satisfied the various
requirements and demands on us. The issue about subsidised or
free cards is actually one that also runs alongside the sensitivity
with which cards are issued. There is no reason at all for people
who are in long term residential care to have to have a biometric
card, they could have a plain card which just indicated that we
had issued it on the basis of knowledge about the person.
Q676 Mr Singh: Forgive me if I missed
it, Home Secretary, what about the minimum age of having to carry
Mr Blunkett: Sixteen.
Chairman: Home Secretary, I know you
have other commitments. We have just got three short questions
if we could go through those please.
Q677 Mr Cameron: Home Secretary,
we had some very interesting evidence from a Professor Thomas
of the UK Computer Research Council. I just want to put this point
to you. It is a technical systems engineering issue which is captured
in popular wisdom by the phrase "don't put all your eggs
in one basket". I am just going to read you a little bit
of what he said in his evidence. "If you create either a
single card that has multi functions or a single database then
you are adding to the nation's critical infrastructure unnecessarily
and by doing that you are making a very large range of services,
probably a growing range of services, vulnerable to a single attack,
either a deliberate attack or a fault that arises as a consequence
of misimplementation or accident. This seems (and undoubtedly
is) an extremely foolish thing to do if you do not need to do
it." We have not heard from the Home Office on that point
and I wonder whether you can respond?
Mr Blunkett: Is this the Foundation
for Information Policy and Research?
Q678 Mr Cameron: No. I am sorry for
misdescribing, I could not read my own handwriting. It is the
UK Computing Research Committee, Professor Martyn Thomas. It is
certainly quite persuasive. Just on the surface it is quite a
Mr Blunkett: I am sure it is,
except of course we do have these databases already and the fact
that the National Insurance database is not clean does not actually
reduce the salience of the same argument about having the National
Insurance database or a social security database in the United
Q679 Mr Cameron: I am sorry to interrupt
but the point is he is saying this is not just the National Insurance
database, you want to make it the database for driving licences,
for passports, for everything else.
Mr Blunkett: I want to make it
the database for correct identification of those legitimately
in this country, that is all. I am making no great claims for
it, we have a database of 42 million people for passports, it
is the highest density of take-up of passports in the world and
it is used for passport purposes in terms of identification for
going in and out of the country. The corollary of the card is
the usage within the country and not just the coming in and out
of the country or to use the DVLA, which has 38 million people
on it, for actually being able to prove that you should be allowed
to drive a car. The difference at the moment is that you can have
it forged at the moment. I love academics when they get into these
areas. I would be very happy to have a debate with Professor Thomas
about this but the difference is that unlike the DVLA people will
not be able to steal my identity, as they did in the BBC television
channel one programme which managed to get a driving licence in
my name, a very dangerous thing to do!
Mr Browne: The assumption which
underlies that opinion which, as you say, appears on the face
of it very strong is that all the other databases disappear, but
they do not. We are not getting rid of the passport database which
David has suggested covers 80% of the population, we are not getting
rid of the DVLA database which covers a significant proportion
of the population and we will, of course, build into the structure
of this database back up systems and recovery systems should anything
happen, just as all those other databases have those systems too.
We are not progressing towards one single database for all purposes
and that is why for the purpose of services those who provide
the services will have to opt in.
6 Note by witness: ie, how well the system
works on a larger scale. Back