House of COMMONS
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
HOME AFFAIRS COMMITTEE
Tuesday 10 February 2004
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Taken before the Home Affairs Committee on Tuesday 10 February 2004
Mr John Denham, in the Chair
Mrs Janet Dean
Mr Gwyn Prosser
Mr John Taylor
Memoranda submitted by the Finance and Leasing Association, the Local Government Association and the Police Federation of England and Wales
Witnesses: Mr Martin Hall, Director-General, the Finance and Leasing Association, Mr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, the Local Government Association, and Mrs Jan Berry, Chairman, the Police Federation, examined.
Q237 Chairman: Good afternoon. Thank you very much for coming. Before we start the question session, it may be helpful for the press and the public to know that the Committee has decided to hold a special hearing on 24 February on the migration aspects of EU enlargement. We will be sending out the usual formal press notice about that. We welcome the witnesses for this session on ID cards. Because there is likely to be a vote at four and we would normally go until about quarter past four, we will aim, if we can, to finish the session at four, to avoid having a long adjournment and just a few minutes after that. We will see how that goes, however. Can I ask each of you to introduce yourselves briefly for the Committee, and then we will get underway?
Mrs Berry: My name is Jan Berry and I am the Chairman of the Police Federation.
Mr Hall: Martin Hall. I am the Director-General of the Finance and Leasing Association, which is a trade association representing asset finance, consumer finance and motor finance -about £64.7 billion a year of new finance for consumers.
Mr Vernon-Jackson: I am Gerald Vernon-Jackson. I am Deputy Leader of Portsmouth City Council, and I am a member of the LGA executive.
Q238 Chairman: Can I start with some general questions about the scope of the proposed central database under the Government's proposals? The Home Office has made it clear that the only information which would be held on a central database or on a card is what is necessary to verify identity, such as name, address, date of birth, gender, immigration status, plus the biometric identifiers. Some of you, at least in your evidence, obviously aspire to have more information than that held, either on the central database or on the card - or that is how I understand it. Do you think that what the Government are proposing is a sufficient level of information to be held on a card? Mr Hall, I do not know if you have a view on that?
Mr Hall: From our point of view, which is primarily to identify people and then link, through identity through a credit reference agency, it is more or less right. I think that we would like to see information from the birth and death register in the database, although not on the card, simply because impersonation of dead people is quite common. So it would be good to have entries which have a death record, which are then retained - and the ID number of course. Otherwise, we would be happy. The biometric, I think, would not be necessary for our particular purposes.
Mrs Berry: We are relatively happy with information. The more information you have, the wider the benefits can be. We also accept that the more information is there, the more concern for people there would be that the information might not be used for the reasons it is being kept. We are very keen to see the inclusion of biometrics. We see that provides the reliability and robustness that maybe were absent in the proposals in the past. But I think that we would want to see maybe more than one biometric, rather than reliance on one.
Q239 Chairman: I will come to you, Mr Vernon-Jackson, but can we just explore between you why, in your case Mr Hall, you do not regard the biometrics as essential and why, in the police case, you do?
Mr Hall: In many cases people are seeking credit where they are not physically present. In that case, you would ask the number; you would ask them a few questions about themselves; then you would check the information they had given you against the central database. What we would suggest, where people are physically present, is some sort of electronic check. I have brought, and I will leave it behind for the clerk, an ultraviolet light. We have sent to every single motor dealership an ultraviolet light which reveals particular features in the present driving licence, and this is proving very useful. So I think that would be quite a helpful thing, irrespective of whether you had biometrics or not.
Q240 Chairman: So your view on this is coloured very much by the aspiration which you have, which we will come back to later: that you would have direct access to the database?
Mr Hall: Not direct access but indirect access, through credit reference agencies, yes.
Mrs Berry: Our view is that we need to check people's identity with the technology that is available at the time. We know that there are counterfeit passports; we know that there are counterfeit driving licences. The information that we have is that the technology is now available and that biometrics would provide a far more credible and reliable database. We are actually checking people who will be there in front of us, as opposed to the situation where it might be down a telephone line, where credit reference and identity need to be confirmed. For us, we have actually got the individual there.
Q241 Chairman: Mr Vernon-Jackson, what is the local government view?
Mr Vernon-Jackson: On the issue of the database our view was that having a single identifier number was extremely useful, to link together different databases within government. The hearings we heard gave the impression that the idea of Big Brother - of different government departments talking to each other - was not a reality. Everybody operated their entirely separate systems and so actually having something that brought together the DWP, National Insurance, the Department of Health - all those systems and the different ways information is stored on us - would actually be useful. So we were very keen on that. We were much less certain about the card. Without biometrics, we have considerable worries that the card does not have huge amounts of use - just because of the issue of forgery or if it can be forged. If we are giving people the impression that this identity card is a gateway through to everything, then people have to have trust that it is not forgeable. Without biometrics, therefore, we would be worried about it. We have worries about the whole issue of people having to have a card anyway. We are much less certain about whether the card issue is right, but we are very keen on the individual identifier number, to be able to pull together different bits of information about us.
Q242 Chairman: If somebody does not have a card but they have a number, how do you envisage that being used in the local government context?
Mr Vernon-Jackson: In terms of local government we are not sure that there will be a huge amount of uses, because we do not spend a lot of time checking people's identity. The real areas for us are about housing benefit and council tax benefit. There are differences of view about how much a card would be useful without biometrics. At the moment, people have to produce a passport or they have to produce driving licences or else, if they do not have those, a whole range of other documentation. In terms of benefit fraud, the advice I have from my officers is that it is unlikely to make a huge amount of difference. So the card seems much less important to us than the number that joins together different bits of information that are already collected about us.
Q243 Chairman: So you are not so much advocating an identity card as having better handling of government data and a reference point that links up the information about different individuals?
Mr Vernon-Jackson: Yes.
Q244 Chairman: Perhaps I can ask the Police Federation this. You say in your evidence that there are lessons to be learned from systems abroad. Can you tell us a bit more about what you have in mind? What lessons have you drawn from international experience?
Mrs Berry: We have spoken to our colleagues throughout Europe, in some of the countries where they have identity cards but maybe not with biometrics, although I think that Belgium and one other country are looking towards digitising some biometrics at the moment. There are a lot of countries who have identity cards, who are quite surprised that we even asked the question, and do not see any difficulties with it. In America and in Australia we looked at some experience they have had over a period of time and I think views have changed, in some respects depending on the political situation. Certainly in Australia you go back nine years, when they had a huge debate about the possibility of identity cards. It started off being fairly well supported, but then it got lost in some of the detail, there was a tremendous anti campaign, and it was lost. In America, probably since 9/11, the views on identity cards have changed. Certainly, on a European basis, a lot of our colleagues are questioning why we are even asking the question. They cannot think of how their job could be done without having direct access to the identity of the person they are speaking to.
Q245 Chairman: A final open question to each of you, so that I am clear. If somebody has a card which, for the sake of argument, has biometric data on it, how often do each of you envisage that biometric data being verified - presuming there is a local reader of some sort, as opposed to somebody simply offering the card, which may have the information encoded but which is not readable by an individual person? Mr Hall, you were talking about people on the telephone who, by definition, cannot have anybody reading their card. How does any of the data in the card help identify the person on the telephone with the person to whom you may be giving a loan?
Mr Hall: Essentially, you would ask the person what their number was, ask them some details about themselves, and verify that data against the central record via a credit reference agency, if that was available. In the case of face-to-face transactions, of which I do not know the proportion - I could find out, roughly - if the cost of biometric verification was cheap enough, then the whole thing would be much more attractive. I was not saying that we were against it; simply that it was not essential, given what looks like the cost of checking at the moment. All in all - and these are very by-and-large numbers - we think something like 100‑150 million identity checks a year are done through credit reference agencies, of which quite a high proportion would be without the person being present. But "a lot" would be the answer, and probably more if a more reliable system were available.
Mrs Berry: We have hundreds of thousands of contacts with suspects, victims, offenders, throughout a year. We would therefore expect there to be some mobile technology for officers to have on the streets, so that you would then save having to take people into police stations for verification of details. Street bail is now to be available, and so you would need some verification of people's identity on the street.
Q246 Chairman: Those uses are therefore highly dependent, are they, on there being this mobile technology? The simple proffering of a card with a photo on it would not really deliver what you need.
Mrs Berry: No, a photograph on its own would be insufficient to verify to the standards we need to verify. You would need to have biometrics. I would argue that if you want to have the widest possible use of the card, then it would need to be more than one biometric on the card.
Q247 Chairman: At the moment, the Government's plans - I think that your evidence says this, Mr Vernon-Jackson - do not include the cost of providing local reader systems, either mobile or fixed. To the extent that you can envisage using a card, would you see it as needing a lot of local readers in housing benefit offices, or wherever else?
Mr Vernon-Jackson: It depends to what use you are going to put the card. I think that the biometrics make it much more interesting. There are four things that come to my mind where it could be particularly useful. I think that it would be crucial in terms of doing housing benefit and council tax benefit. That means, with local authorities having one-stop shops spread around their local authority areas, a large number. There are two other things, however. It depends on what databases it is linked to. One of the things we could be doing is having people voting with these, and people able not just to vote in their polling station but effectively to vote anywhere - because it is all connected through a central computer. Also, if the Department of Health are talking about having centralised medical records, then it would be very useful for social services to be able, when doing an assessment of somebody and carrying out a home visit, to access people's medical records. It could mean that the social services' assessment of what people's needs are would be much more accurate and also tie in with what the doctors are prescribing for those people. Again, as with the police, that means large numbers of handheld, portable readers which are able to connect into a central system, and where we are able to read what is held on a whole range of different databases.
Q248 Chairman: Can we move on to the creation of the central database? By the way, if any of you feel that some of these questions are beyond your own organisation's technical expertise, that is fine, because we will be having a range of witnesses. I just wonder whether any of you have any particular views on the key things that should be taken into account in trying to create a reliable central database.
Mr Hall: We felt that none of the available ones was, of itself, sufficient to be able to do that. That is by definition. Otherwise we would not be looking at the problem. The DVLA has a reasonably reliable database, but not reliable enough. There are clearly far more National Insurance numbers in issue than there are people who are eligible to have them. There is something that has gone wrong there. We felt - but probably with a lot of reservations, because it is far from complete - that the electoral roll was probably the place to start. Building on whatever there was, however, including credit reference agency data - which is often more up to date than official records, but also DVLA, passports, and whatever other databases presented themselves. It would be a painstaking task at the beginning, however, to get the degree of accuracy that you would want in order to feel confident.
Q249 Chairman: You have made the point, which I think the Government accept, that the existing records of the DVLA and the Passport Agency are not sufficiently good to rely purely on those as the raw material for the new database. Do you have any worries about those two agencies being the main issuing bodies of the new identity cards in the future, assuming that they are relying on a different database?
Mr Hall: I do not think that we do, no. I am assuming that there is access to the necessary technology, and we would be perfectly able to cope with it. I do not see how you would do it otherwise than by this sort of gradualist approach of those two routes, perhaps plus a new route of people who simply apply for a card. I think that you need to use all channels to assemble the database in the very first place.
Q250 Chairman: Do any of the three of you have particular views about how the process of registering an individual on the database should be handled? Obviously you have to match a particular person and their biometrics with the central database and this other information. Do you have any particular thoughts about how that should be handled? The LGA have suggested that might be handled more at local level than on a central database.
Mr Vernon-Jackson: And I think that we would be happy to offer our services in terms of collecting that data, because people will have to come in, to be seen, so that the biometrics can be sampled, or whatever. If we are being honest, if this debate is being driven by issues of national security and issues around people being in the UK who should not be in the UK, we are actually talking about trying to target people at the very margins of society. None of the databases that we have really address that issue. The electoral register may be 85 to 90 % accurate but, if the push is coming in terms of trying to identify those 10 %, then almost none of our databases work. We would be happy for the electoral register to be used as a basis, but it is how you find those 10 % and then track those 10 % of people, who are the people who will often move very frequently, who will not have records, and all of those problems. I am sure that we would be happy to volunteer our services, therefore. We have offices everywhere, but it is a real issue in terms of the number of cards that will have to be issued each year on the electoral register - even excluding those 10 % of people. In London, 40 % change address every year. In Southampton, 25 % change every year. That is a huge number of cards that would have to be reissued - and that is only having to register once a year. With people who are serially moving, it will be an extremely difficult process to make sure that things are accurate.
Q251 Mrs Dean: Can I turn to you first, Mr Vernon-Jackson? Could you say a little more about when local authorities currently check identity? You have mentioned housing benefit. Do local authorities currently ask for proof of identification when, say, children are registered at school?
Mr Vernon-Jackson: We do a range of different things. Identity is checked in different ways, according to different things. When somebody registers to be a member of the library, we will ask for an identification, and whatever. But, if we are honest, we are not going to spend huge amounts of time doing it. If somebody runs off with some library books, it is unfortunate, but people do not often do it and, anyway, it does not cost huge amounts of money. So you go through a range of different things. The issue that we have all felt is the most difficult is where there are large amounts of public money involved. That is where the housing benefit aspect comes in. That is where I think our main interest in this would be. We do £40-£50 million worth of housing benefit in Portsmouth every year, and that is a huge amount of public money. There is a range of things, therefore: libraries at one end; housing benefit at the other, where we will spend much more time with the DWP verification framework, trying to make sure that everybody is right. If the truth be known - I do not have kids and I have never done education - I do not know whether we ask people for identification when kids register for school. I know that the Department of Education are looking for each child to have a pupil number, to track them through life. I do not know much more detail than that. I am sorry; I am no expert on it.
Q252 Mrs Dean: Do you agree with the Information Commissioner that there are some services for which ID cards should not be used if they were introduced? Would libraries be a good example?
Mr Vernon-Jackson: We have developed our own series of smart cards for people in local authority areas, where people effectively have local authority identity cards. It looks as if our cards have some services that will not be available on the national cards. For instance, we have the ability to have an e-purse on it, so that people can charge up their card with money and, if you get on a bus, it will buy your bus ticket; it will pay your library fines for you; it will pay for you to go to the swimming pool; it will pay for you to park your car. That level of smart card technology, as I understand it, is not what the Government are looking at. It looks as if we will run our own parallel system, therefore, even when this comes out. They may be of some use. Because the options on it do not give us the chance of being able to carry on some of those things, it will not be a huge amount of use for us in identifying people for things like library cards.
Q253 Mrs Dean: So you still see the existing local smart cards continuing?
Mr Vernon-Jackson: I think that we would not be averse to having the two merged but, having spent the time and effort to create things where we are trying to move, for a lot of services, away from a cash economy into a smart card economy, I think that we would be very loath to lose that - just because it is so convenient for lots of services and lots of people.
Q254 Mrs Dean: You have told us that you have not been involved in any discussions about the services councils provide. What consultation would you like to see?
Mr Vernon-Jackson: When we had our hearings, different groups of people came to talk to us about the issues around civil liberties, housing benefits, the technology that we currently operate as local councils. That was useful. The issue we would like explored more is how it will affect the people who may be perceived as being at the margins of society. We drew two people. If I were a middle‑aged, white lady living on the Isle of Wight, then I would not actually be asked for my card very often. If I am young, male, black, and living in Brixton, then the perception is that I would be asked to prove identity much more frequently. I think that we have real worries about what that does for community cohesion, especially as this has been brought up with the idea that we are looking at national security and people who are illegal immigrants. I think that we would want much more consultation - and I am sure you are doing it - with members of those groups of society who are perceived as being on the edge of society, about what effect this card is likely to have and if, in effect, it becomes compulsory for people to carry it. If you are young, male, black, and live in Brixton, and you are stopped, asked for it, and do not have it, if this is about national security and people being illegal immigrants, the police are not going to say, "Can you go and collect it, and bring it to the police station within seven days and show it to us?". They are going to say, "You have to produce it now". Otherwise, the whole point of it from the national security point of view is useless. I think that is where our concern mainly rests - in the community cohesion issue.
Q255 Janet Anderson: Mr Vernon-Jackson, perhaps I could ask you a brief supplementary. You particularly referred to the amount of public money that is spent on housing benefit in your area alone. Do you think that the introduction of identity cards would help local authorities to reduce the incidence of housing benefit fraud?
Mr Vernon-Jackson: The advice I have from my housing benefit people in Portsmouth is that they do not see that, without biometrics, it will be of much additional use, because of the ability to create forgeries. With biometrics, there may be some use. The advice from my colleagues in Smith Square is different. They think that it would help to reduce it; but I prefer to trust the people on the front line in Portsmouth who are actually handing the money out. There is more of an issue about organised fraud, large-scale fraud, through landlords, where identity is actually not the issue. It may have an effect on housing benefit fraud, but I do not think that it will solve the problem.
Q256 Mrs Dean: What lessons do you think there are for central government, from your experience of service provision by local government?
Mr Vernon-Jackson: I think that having smart card technology is very useful. If we are going to go down this route, I think that we are disappointed that it looks as if it is such a low‑technology card and will not enable local providers to be able to access databases, to save some of the hassle that people have continuously to go through, filling in forms and having to re-reveal information. The social services-health interface seems to us a particularly important issue.
Q257 Mrs Dean: So you would like a high-tech card?
Mr Vernon-Jackson: Yes.
Q258 Mrs Dean: Then you could get rid of your local ones.
Mr Hall: I think that some people would love to keep their own cards. Bracknell are very proud of their cards. But I think there is benefit in saying that people should have to carry as few bits of plastic as possible. With having to have a different driving licence card to a passport card because of the problem of the placement of photos - people look as if they will have to carry several of these. So why make life more complicated for people?
Q259 David Winnick: Are you dissatisfied, Mr Hall, with the present arrangements as far as security is concerned about lending money and other financial arrangements made by the various companies which make up your organisation?
Mr Hall: How do you mean? Are we concerned about fraud?
Q260 David Winnick: If you are in favour of an identity card scheme, does that imply that the present situation as far as security is concerned is not satisfactory?
Mr Hall: We had a long and difficult discussion, first of all with the Government and then over a court case, in respect of access to the electoral roll. The industry would not argue that credit-checking was a particularly suitable purpose for using electoral information, but at the same time we argued that there was no other universal, publicly available system, and therefore the electoral roll was critical if we were to (a) be able to identify people and (b) lend responsibly by checking back how much, collectively, the industry is lending to particular individuals. I think that we would like to remedy the shortcomings of the electoral roll, which is far from perfect, and also not be reliant on specifically electoral information as such that is on a central database. Other countries have various kinds of central databases which are available for these sorts of purposes. Not always ID cards; sometimes National Insurance numbers, or whatever. That was the thinking behind it, however.
Q261 David Winnick: Would you want the Committee to take the view from your organisation that, in the absence of any such card scheme, it will make it that much more difficult for financial security to be regulated? In other words, that an identity card scheme is essential for the sort of security which your organisations want?
Mr Hall: Provided we continue to have access to what we do have, and with continuing co‑operation in areas of fraud between private and public sectors, we would carry on as we are, using techniques like this to check against forged documents - with the losses from fraud which the industry continues to suffer. Chip and PIN is another example of how the credit card industry is reacting. It would probably have done that anyway, because that is not just identity fraud. There are a whole lot of other types of fraud as well. So it is an improvement on the present situation and something which leaves us less dependent on contested sources of confirmatory information. I am thinking particularly of the electoral roll.
Q262 David Winnick: So you are not actually waiting anxiously for a scheme which may or may not come into operation in 10 to 13 years, in order to secure the security of your customers?
Mr Hall: We are waiting hopefully rather than anxiously.
Q263 David Winnick: But in the meantime you are taking the necessary steps?
Mr Hall: Whatever we can, yes.
Q264 David Winnick: Trying to be even‑balanced, if I remember - not the actual words - the Home Office document said that one of the disadvantages of having an identity card scheme is that too much reliance could be placed by financial institutions on that one card, and thereby not using the various preventive schemes you have at present. Do you accept that?
Mr Hall: I do not think so. Certainly, currently there is a system of two checks in terms of verification of people's identity, for money-laundering purposes. I think that we should always be interested in other schemes as well, but I think that this would become the dominant identity check. However, identity fraud is only one of the sources of damage to the industry, so I do not think that it is a risk, no.
Q265 David Winnick: Mrs Berry, perhaps I can now come to you. It is intended, in time, for the card to be compulsory in the sense that, as we all know, information will have to be given by individual citizens, but apparently, at least as it now stands, it will not be necessary for the card to be carried. Would the police rather have a situation where, if such a scheme comes into operation, the card is carried by the individual?
Mrs Berry: I think so. All my colleagues to whom I have spoken - and other federations in the UK and operational officers - unless it is compulsory, do not think that the full benefits of the scheme will actually become evident. However, we do accept that there are concerns about it. That is why the Federation of England and Wales have said that, in the early stages, it should be done on a voluntary basis, so that any concerns people have can be dealt with at that stage, before compulsion comes in later. But I think that the true benefits will not be seen unless it is a compulsory scheme.
Q266 David Winnick: Perhaps the word "concern" is an understatement, but that could be the subject of debate. Would you be pressing the Home Office to go further than they have so far done? In other words, to do what you say the police would like, namely that each individual should carry the card?
Mrs Berry: I think we have said in our response, and we have said in all of our policies recently, that we support a compulsory scheme; but, in order for the benefits to be seen and experienced, then we would support a voluntary scheme in the first instance. As I have said, I do not think that the true benefits of any scheme will really become truly evident until you have a compulsory scheme. It is also true that you need to have pilots to work out if there are particular problems. It is still very early days for the biometrics, although the signs are very promising. So to bring in those sorts of things compulsorily while you are still in this test‑bed situation would probably be a bit too soon.
Q267 David Winnick: Nevertheless, as you say, the police would rather the card was carried, if we have a card. Would you accept that there was indeed a great deal of controversy over stop-and-search?
Mrs Berry: I would accept that there is a lot of publicity about stop-and-search, yes.
Q268 David Winnick: Is there not a danger that, if the card came about and it was necessary or was considered necessary by the government of the day that it should be carried - because, as people have often said since Mr Blunkett has put forward such ideas, it will escalate into precisely that - that this will be seen simply as another stop-and-search, but with a vengeance?
Mrs Berry: No, I do not think so. I think that it would have the opposite effect. There is probably more accountability with regard to stop-and-search today than there ever has been previously. We are now looking at having to have records for stops and records for searches. If there was an identification card, then each of those could be properly recorded in a less time‑consuming way than is currently the case. Therefore, if there are discrepancies and discrimination and disproportionality being identified, it can be identified far quicker. Any officer who is not stopping for the right reasons and cannot justify the action they are taking would be far more evident. So I think that it will actually assist the purpose, and maybe some of the headlines that the police service in general receive about discrimination and the numbers of searches. We could deal with the people who are not able to justify their course of action, rather the broad-brush approach which attacks the whole police service.
Q269 David Winnick: Perhaps understandably, amongst the most enthusiastic supporters outside Parliament for an identity card have been the police. What problems are there about identity which in your view are so essential to be resolved by an ID scheme?
Mrs Berry: I think that it saves time on the street where we are having to check identity. Not everybody we deal with on the street is willing to give us information in a very timely way. Sometimes we have to take them into custody and take them back to the police station, and it takes many hours in custody before they actually tell us who they are. You also have situations where people are not necessarily in a fit state to tell us who they are. They might be mentally ill; they might be drunk; they might be incapable. There is a whole host of different reasons why we need to check people's identity. Of course, the worst-case scenario is that you could have a number of dead bodies. Again, the identification card could assist you with being able to identify dead bodies. There are a wide variety of times when we need to check people's identity.
Q270 David Winnick: Would it be right to say - and obviously you will correct me if I am wrong - that in the many problems that the police face, day in and day out, in trying to resolve criminality, identity is not necessarily by any means the major problem?
Mr Hall: I think that is a fair comment.
Q271 David Winnick: One final question, if I may. The tragedy of Morecambe Bay was raised, as to be expected, in the House yesterday. The Minister in reply said that, in order to do the job which led to the tragic deaths of the Chinese, "applicants have to provide proof of identity, such as the National Insurance number and photographic identification", before permission is given to do that sort of work. Even though that was indeed and is the position, it was simply ignored by those involved - the gangmasters . Why should we believe that an identity card scheme would make the slightest difference, leading to such tragedies?
Mrs Berry: At the moment, the way in which identity can be checked and is checked is varied. If the identity card scheme was a national scheme, checked on one database, then it has to be policed more thoroughly. I do not think that the identity card scheme on its own will resolve all the immigration problems. On its own, it will not resolve terrorism and will not resolve criminality, but it can certainly assist us in our work.
Q272 David Winnick: Without wishing to put words into your mouth - heaven forbid! - I must say that what you have just said in conclusion seems to be, "Well, it will be a help of a kind, but it is not really going to be a major effort by any means in carrying out the police work, without the ----
Mrs Berry: No, not at all. I think that is probably putting too many words into my mouth!
Q273 Chairman: That was a leading question.
Mrs Berry: As they say in court!
Q274 David Winnick: I was not too far off the mark though.
Mrs Berry: I do not think that we should underestimate how much time is spent by police officers, checking identities. Whilst there are greater priorities, we could be using that time to far better use than checking identities.
Q275 Mr Prosser: I want to go back to the issue of the database itself, starting perhaps with Mr Hall. You say in your written evidence that the database should be available for all legitimate users of information to access, either directly or indirectly. Can you enlarge upon that? Who do you mean by the legitimate users? I would guess your own association might come close to the top of the list.
Mr Hall: Almost by definition, yes.
Q276 Mr Prosser: But, wider than that, how wide do you think it should be? And what does indirect access mean?
Mr Hall: To take the second question first, by "indirect access" we meant access rather like the access we now have to the electoral roll, which means that credit reference agencies - two large ones, one smaller one - operating nationally, gather together, consolidate and then disseminate the information for a fee. I do not think any lender would be seeking direct access to that central database. As to legitimate, it would be - and I am thinking aloud and speaking as an individual rather than for the association - people who, for lawful purposes, would find it important to have access to it. The purposes for which that data could be used would have to be very strictly defined. The example with our industry is that there is fairly free access by the credit reference agencies and also reciprocal access to information in respect of where there are prima facie grounds for suspecting fraud, for instance, and for the purpose of credit-checking, but absolutely not for marketing purposes. That is very strictly laid down. Certainly there is no suggestion, in suggesting that our access would be legitimate, that we would want it for those purposes. It would be for identification purposes, which are largely related to money-laundering; second, for being able to lend responsibly; and, third, for the purpose of establishing creditworthiness - having established who the person is and what their credit record is. Going outside our industry, various government agencies would want access to it for particular purposes. There may well be many other people doing different things in the private sector. You can imagine that there would be many people who would be checking, say, the identity of directors of companies for one reason or another. There may well be lots of other purposes that we have not thought of, where a case would be made for legitimate use; but I have not assembled in my mind a universe of legitimate users. It would flow from the purposes for which Parliament saw fit to limit the use of the data.
Q277 Mr Prosser: You go on to say that you envisage a database with different categories of information, maintained by relevant users. Then further you say that it would be sensible for credit reference agencies to have access to the centralised database.
Mr Hall: Yes.
Q278 Mr Prosser: Why is that?
Mr Hall: Because establishment of the identity of someone is the core to it. It is the main purpose for which the credit reference agency would want it. If, for instance, someone was going to finance a car, now they would check a driving licence and would hope to be able to continue to be able to do that. They would probably continue to do that physically, because it is the only way you can find out if someone is entitled. If there was a possible way of doing that via the database through an agreed gateway, between different parts of the gateway, it may simplify the process.
Q279 Mr Prosser: Can you tell us how easy it is for an individual to access his or her own data on the credit reference agency database?
Mr Hall: They simply have to ask for it and have a right to receive it on payment of a fee, which I think is £2. They have an absolute right to have that data on request.
Q280 Mr Prosser: Do you think that agencies like the police should have access to that database?
Mr Hall: They do have access to that database.
Q281 Mr Prosser: With or without the knowledge of the individual?
Mr Hall: I would have to confirm the answer to that question.
Q282 Chairman: You can write to us afterwards. That would be helpful.
Mr Hall: Yes, I will do that.
Q283 Mr Prosser: Mr Vernon-Jackson, you talked about bringing the database a little closer to home, perhaps allowing local authorities to administer it. What is your thinking? In non‑unitary authorities are you talking about shire counties or district councils? Why would that be better for the individual?
Mr Vernon-Jackson: I think that there are several issues. One of the issues is around people's fear about central government and the use they would put it to; and they are slightly less frightened of us than they are of you - because we are nicer and we just collect the rubbish, and things like that. So people may be happier about giving us local information. Also, people are more used to coming into offices within their local towns, or whatever. It is probably something that would need to be done at county, unitary and met - London borough - level. District councils may be able to do some of the collecting but not holding of data, I expect, just because some of the district councils are really very small in terms of their staffing levels. There would need to be discussion about whether the work that local authorities could do would be about collecting information, collecting data and collecting biometrics on people, and then accessing centrally held data, or whether the data would be held locally. I think that there are arguments on both sides, if I am honest.
Q284 Mr Prosser: I will not argue with you over the issue of whether the individual trusts local government or national government more or less, but do you not think that there is the other argument: that people would be more relaxed about having all this information, this access, at a central level rather than a chap round the corner, who might be known to you?
Mr Vernon-Jackson: I think that there are arguments on both sides. There is an argument that says that the stuff which is held centrally in London will not be able to be accessed by people you know, but there is also then the fear of what central government might do with that in terms of people's privacy and the fear of the Big Brother of government. What we would mainly be able to do, and the skill that we have, is about the collecting of data and verifying people's biometrics and so on, and issuing cards or whatever - just because we have offices all round local authority areas.
Q285 Mr Prosser: But could that not be a problem with security as well? So many offices, so many councils, and so many opportunities for leakage of security?
Mr Vernon-Jackson: In terms of collecting data, if the aim, as I understand the Home Office's aim, is to try to look at national security issues and issues of illegal immigration, and so it is about being able to identify those people - those 10 % of people we do not collect on other databases - it seems to me that you have to make it as easy as possible for people to be able to come and give information, when they are moving, about who they are, et cetera, and reissue cards with new addresses. You will have to make it extremely easy. That is where the large number of offices, connected through the internet, would be useful. The decision about whether the data should be held locally or centrally, now that computers have the ability to talk to each other, is probably less of an important issue - just because people can exchange information so quickly between different computers.
Q286 Mr Prosser: You reminded us in your earlier evidence today that something like 40 % of the population of London moves every year.
Mr Vernon-Jackson: That is 40 % on the electoral register, and we know that we do not by any means hit everybody on the electoral register. So it is probably a higher proportion.
Q287 Mr Prosser: So on that basis of a locally controlled database you would, in some areas, be changing nearly half of those identities and their stats every year?
Mr Vernon-Jackson: Yes. It is a vast operation, but if this is what central government asks us to do, I am sure we will help as much as we can, as long as there is the money to do it.
Mr Prosser: Leave it to us.
Q288 Chairman: Could I follow that point by asking - and this is a very naïve question, obviously - how essential is the address information on the database, compared with the other elements of identification? I am presumably John Denham, whether I am living at my current address or a different one, and could be identified by a biometric. What is the essential reason why we must have an up-to-date address on the card?
Mr Vernon-Jackson: I do not want people claiming housing benefit in more than one address.
Mrs Berry: Clearly we need to know where people are coming from and where we can get in contact with them in the future. I recognise that the address part is probably the part which will need changing more often than anything else - which is where the cost comes in.
Q289 Chairman: There is a difficulty in getting these addresses up to date, which is the problem of getting people to register for the electoral register and so on. Do they invalidate the reasons for the card? If people are carrying cards whose addresses were not necessarily up to date, would that matter? Presumably with housing benefit one can simply say, "If your card is not up to date, you are not going to be able to claim housing benefit on your new address". So you could sort of force compliance. With people on the streets, the police cannot necessarily.
Mrs Berry: It does not invalidate the parts around identity theft, where that takes place. The address is not the all-important part of identity theft. I think that it goes back to the point you were making earlier on. We are dealing very often with the very edges here. 90% of the people would be quite happy to carry it; they would be quite happy to update it. It is the people who fall in that other five to 10%, who are more likely to be moving around and who are more likely not to turn up when they should do for bail, or court, or something else. The address will be more important for those than probably for the other people.
Q290 Bob Russell: I will put the first question to the Police Federation, continuing with the cost theme. Any critics of ID cards have argued that they are not cost-effective and that the money could be better spent on, for example, the police. What is your response to the argument of those who say we should spend more money on the police and not on ID cards?
Mrs Berry: We are always very grateful for any money that is spent on us. Police officers on the street are really important but they also need technology to assist them to do their job. We do need to check that the people we have in front of us are the right people. So police officers are important, but you need to be able to check identity as well.
Q291 Bob Russell: The next question is to Mr Vernon-Jackson. You have mentioned the cost to local authorities of being able to access the central database. In your view, what would be an acceptable level? Incidentally, I should point out that, in Colchester, I am trusted.
Mr Vernon-Jackson: I am sure you are, Bob. If this is about a database that is about saving public money, then I would expect that central government would allow us access for free. For instance, housing benefit money is passed down from central government and then given out via local authorities. So I would expect there to be resistance to a fee per use. I would expect this to be a project which is trying to save public money, irrespective of whether it is central government money or local authority money. In some councils 75 % of the money they spend comes from central government anyway, in terms of grant. So if you are going to ask us to pay for every time we use it, you are just recycling money back to central government that originally came to you, and you would have to give us a bigger grant in the first place. What we would ask for would be a free system for public good.
Q292 Bob Russell: Surely nowadays local government is merely a branch office of central government anyway?
Mr Vernon-Jackson: In some things it is undoubtedly true that we are an agency for central government, but there are some discretions still allowed by central government in terms of things that we provide. I am sure that local people value the fact that in some places - in Colchester - you may choose to do something differently than in Southampton, and that would reflect the needs, aspirations and wishes of your local communities.
Q293 Bob Russell: In terms of exchange of financial information and public information, you have indicated that it is all public money. Could you not argue that, in the same way as Barclays Bank does not expect its branches - at least I assume they do not - to pay for information they get from their central database, in local government you should not be expected to pay for the central charges of central government?
Mr Vernon-Jackson: I am happy to argue that.
Q294 Bob Russell: There is no fee for that advice! My final question is to Mr Hall. How much would you be prepared to pay to be able to verify identity through an ID card scheme?
Mr Hall: I have not asked my members, who would of course be the people who pay. The fact is that you would hope that the credit reference agencies would have less work and less difficult work to do to create the databases, and they should therefore be able to charge less to their customers, leaving some saving. You would hope too that there would be less fraud and therefore less loss through fraud and less work on detecting fraud. So there should be some savings to the industry. There are 100-150 million checks, we reckon. I guess you would be talking about a small number of pence per use, provided that payment was accepted by industry at large. I think that if there was a pattern of paying for use of the database, our industry would be part of that and there would be some revenue from it. At the same time, the database would be quite heavily dependent on use of the databases the credit reference agencies themselves gathered. So they would be able to give quid pro quo there. I would expect that we would be contributors to the cost.
Q295 Bob Russell: You have mentioned the very large number of checks that are being made already. How many ID card readers do you think your members require and, in total, the state would need for all its outlets for which they would need ID checks?
Mr Hall: I was reserving our position on card readers. If it was a very simple matter - something like a credit card reader - probably most outlets would have them. If the UV lights are anything to go by, we distributed 28,000 to motor dealers, who are all in the process ----
Q296 Bob Russell: If I may just interrupt you, the whole object of these identity cards is that they are going to be biometric. They are going to scan the iris, they are going to have a fingerprint. That is not a simple checker.
Mr Hall: But whether individual businesses felt it worth their while to have biometric readers would depend on the cost of doing that. It is a simple cost issue.
Q297 Bob Russell: Perhaps I could press this. Has your organisation thought about how many checkers it will need?
Mr Hall: We have not got into that degree of consultation, because we do not yet know what sort of thing it will be. I imagine the people who handle a high volume of queries might well find it worth having checkers; but whether every garage and every shop that issued a loan did would be a matter of cost.
Q298 Chairman: Could I follow that up with the Police Federation? NAFIS, the on-line fingerprint recognition scheme, has cost tens of millions of pounds and is not yet available in every single police station. You suggested earlier that the police would need operationally some form of handheld or at least mobile devices to check the biometrics. Does the technology for that currently exist and, secondly, do we know what the cost of providing that in an effective operational form would be?
Mrs Berry: The answer to the first part, I am told, is yes, it does. I think that there are a variety of trial schemes.
Q299 Chairman: Is this based on fingerprints or the iris scan?
Mrs Berry: Both, is my understanding. The cost of it is not within my knowledge. I think that the iris has not been tried and tested in this country although, to my knowledge, it has been in other countries. The fingerprint part, as I understand it, even going down to a nightclub in Essex - not in Colchester, I do not think! - has been extremely successful. The other example we put in our evidence was in north Somerset, where it is combined with pin numbers to assist identification. So my understanding is that the technology is there. To fit it into some of the mobile data machines that the service has currently would not be difficult. I think that the difficult part is the co-ordination and the compatibility of the whole system. Individually, however, I think that it is already available.
Q300 Chairman: Perhaps I have got this wrong but, in my understanding of the north Somerset scheme, it does not actually check the thumbprint against any fingerprint record at the time. It is merely that the person cashing their cheques leaves their thumbprint behind.
Mrs Berry: No, but it provides you with evidence for later on. As I understand the scheme in Essex, it checks their database to ensure that person is a member of the club, and then they can gain admission. So the technology is there. It is the application to which it is then put.
Q301 David Winnick: Mr Vernon-Jackson, I am not asking you the question at the moment but you did raise the difference, if an identity card scheme comes about, between the white, elderly person who will quite likely be asked on very few occasions, compared to a young, black person. I want to ask you, Mrs Berry, do you accept a particular sensitivity when it comes to race relations over any such scheme as we have been discussing?
Mrs Berry: I accept that some publicity has been given, and I think we have to be mindful that some people would perceive that an identity card would infringe people's liberties. I do not believe that to be the case though.
Q302 David Winnick: If you take certain parts of our country where there is a relatively large minority population, would I be wrong to say that it is quite likely, not because the police want to discriminate but it just comes about, that young black males, in particular, would find themselves being asked far more frequently for identification by way of such a card than other groups? You do not believe that, in fact, would be the position?
Mrs Berry: Are you saying in certain areas?
Q303 David Winnick: Yes?
Mrs Berry: I think that in certain areas there are more black youths on the streets than there are white youths, and, therefore, in those areas, it is not surprising that more black youths get asked for their identity than white youths.
Q304 David Winnick: The point I am really putting to you is, if there is such a card, whether it is to be held on a compulsory basis or otherwise, the police will tend to wish to see a card, an identity card, amongst the group that I have mentioned?
Mrs Berry: I think I said earlier that if a person had an identity card, that would be a much easier way of checking (a) their identity, but (b) if they were being checked an awful lot for no apparent reason, as is sometimes reported, then that could be checked far better than it currently is checked. The procedures now in place for recording stops and recording searches are far more detailed than they have been previously. I see an identity card actually assisting that process and enabling police officers to justify the courses of action that they have taken, or not, as the case may be.
Q305 David Winnick: Do you therefore not see any possibility of increasing attention between groups who are in what would be described as "minority groups" - black or Asians - and the police as a result of any such scheme? Do you see no possibility of increased tension as a result?
Mrs Berry: I do not believe that because people have identity cards police officers will have the right to stop them in order to check their identity cards. They must have suspicion, in the first instance, before they stop them and/or search them. If a police officer cannot then justify the reason for their stop and search because of the circumstances that prevailed at that time, then that police officer has to be accountable for that course of action. I do not think the identity cards themselves will cause any more stops and searches, because the circumstances should dictate what they are being stopped for in the first instance.
Q306 David Winnick: A police officer would always, surely, argue that the only reason he has asked for a person's identification is because he has reasons for suspicion. So that would always be the reason or, as some people would put it perhaps, quite unfairly, excuse?
Mrs Berry: Well, a police officer would still need to justify that, and by having a database against which records can be checked, any disproportionality that is identified could be checked far more thoroughly than it currently can be. If you do have a police officer who is stopping people without good reason, I think that with an identity card scheme that is far more likely to be identified than it is without.
Q307 David Winnick: That is in an ideal world. Can I put to you, Mrs Berry, a case which came into the public domain not more than 18 months/2 years ago in the West Midlands, though not in my particular part, where a person, who on all accounts was a perfectly law‑abiding person ‑ there is no evidence he has ever been charged with any offence ‑ was stopped in his car 40 times ‑ 40 times ‑ in a period of some four months. He happened to be black. Would there not, therefore, be some concern that having an identity card scheme would just increase that type of, if you like, stop and search instead of reducing such incidents?
Mrs Berry: Well, if a person has been stopped 40 times, clearly, unless it is the same police officer who stopped them on every occasion‑‑‑
Q308 David Winnick: No, it was not the same police officer?
Mrs Berry: Then the officers have got to be accountable for the stops that they have undertaken and/or the searches. I see the identity card actually assisting that process. I do not see it personally increasing the numbers of stop and searches that will take place.
Q309 David Winnick: So you believe there are no grounds for concern that an identity card scheme would increase tension in some parts of the country?
Mrs Berry: No. I think some people will foresee that it may increase, but I do not think the practicality or the reality is that it will increase it.
Q310 Mr Prosser: To Councillor Vernon‑Jackson. You raise in your evidence your concern about the various government initiatives which require identity checks, such as the Census, identification and tracking of children at risk and the Electoral Register, etc. You say that there could be a lack of coordination or even confusion between these various sorts of roles. Is it your concern - and is it a serious concern - that not only are those without coordination, but, if the Government goes ahead with a national identity database and card, that there will be another system out of coordination with the others? What is your feeling on that?
Mr Vernon-Jackson: I think you need to take the two separately. I think we were surprised at the lack of coordination within Central Government between the different databases. It looks as if the Department of Health does not speak for the Department of Education, who do not speak for the DWP, and they do not seem to match up what they do. I am also interested that so many different people were talking about issuing separate cards: a passport card, a driving licence card, an NHS card, a benefits card, a Connections card for children. So there seemed to be lots of different databases, lots of different cards going on between different departments. In some ways, for those of us who are slightly fearful of government "big brother", it was quite reassuring to see this inability of government departments to speak to each other.
Q311 Bob Russell: Nice one. Not joined up Government.
Mr Vernon-Jackson: Absolutely not. It was really interesting to watch. I think on the idea of collecting data, if there is to be a single point at which people collected ‑ so, for instance, if we are going for voter registration by individual not by household, which the Electoral Commission are looking at now - it may be possible for there to be fewer times when people are contacted. For instance, if we are doing that on a regular basis, then you might be able to coordinate that with Census collection as well, once every 10 years, and things like that. Again, we have problems with Census data. We are not using the 2001 Census data in some areas because it is so inaccurate. So I think there are some benefits that could accrue to some coordination, if that is possible, within Central Government.
Q312 Mr Prosser: It is interesting that the groups from Liberty and other organisations argue that there might not be a principled opposition to an identity card if each identity card, or each identifier, as we call it, related to a different function and a different benefit; but you arrive at the opposite of that?
Mr Vernon-Jackson: If you are going to do it ‑ if you are going to do an identity card - let us do it properly and have one that actually works for a range of things, otherwise it becomes a charter for wallet makers that we have to carry five or six of these things around, and that just seems to be inefficient and really does not do government a great service. One of the things that could be a potential out of this is that we are able to create a single identifier number and then link the different databases up; and that might actually reveal fairly interesting things about people who have dropped out of the system in various places, or where there are multiple identities in some systems. The civil liberties point of view I think we are most worried about is the issue of cards and people: in effect, if you are young, black and male, having to carry it, it becoming compulsory to carry and that not being the same for other parts of society.
Mr Prosser: Thank you very much.
Q313 David Winnick: So, presumably, the answer which Jan Berry gave does not satisfy you?
Mr Vernon-Jackson: I think we have considerable concerns about community cohesion, given the basis that the card has been asked for, which is about national security and illegal immigration, and that seems to target a small section of society.
Q314 David Winnick: Therefore, your association recognises there is a sensitivity about this issue which the police perhaps do not quite see in the same light as you do?
Mr Vernon-Jackson: I think our view was that there will be problems with community cohesion, which is why we were happy to support the idea of the single identifier number but not happy to support the idea of a card being compulsory to either have or present.
Q315 Janet Anderson: If I could turn to socially excluded groups and ask you, Mr Hall, first of all. You say in your evidence that an identity card could also assist the financially excluded to access mainstream financial services. How do you think this would work?
Mr Hall: One of the problems apparently encountered by financially excluded people, who typically do not have a passport, do not have a driving licence, perhaps have a meter for electricity and gas, is that they have not got the documents they need to establish an identity; and, under the known customer part of money laundering rules, financial institutions are required to check the identity of all their customers before they do business with them. So I think it would help them, at least, to establish who they are - what services they got would be a matter of their creditworthiness rather than their proven identity - but I think there is a real barrier to a lot of people in actually approaching financial institutions at all. It causes a lot of embarrassment and awkwardness as well.
Q316 Janet Anderson: I think it is true to say that there have been cases where people who have never had any credit and have always paid for everything up front, as it were, have then applied for credit, and, because they have no credit record, they are refused credit, and that, of course, counts against them on their credit reference. Would you see an identity card as overcoming that particular problem?
Mr Hall: Well, I do not think it would necessarily overcome that problem. I think, in circumstances where a credit check shows no previous credit experience, many lenders would then ask questions rather than simply refuse credit. It is simply that there is a gap in their knowledge. I mean, that is the case for many, many people who stop being students and start to borrow from commercial institutions, as distinct from student loans. I think that not having a credit record in itself is not likely to deprive very many people of credit. I think not being able to prove who you are and where you come from makes it impossible to get any form of financial service. I am not just talking about credit here; it is virtually all financial services: bank accounts, even universal bank accounts, where it is still necessary to prove who you are.
Q317 Janet Anderson: Thank you very much. If I could ask you, Mr Vernon‑Jackson, do you have any suggestions as to how a national identity card scheme should approach the problem of individuals with less stable lives or who may be suspicious of authority?
Mr Vernon-Jackson: I think there are very real problems. I think people with mental health issues, people who choose to live not as established people in established homes, or whatever, but who choose to move around the country - other groups of people ‑ I think it is a real problem because I do not think anybody has found a way of accessing who those people are. I think it is likely, if a system comes in, that there would be problems with these people, and it might actually exacerbate the problem. If you have people with mental health problems, asking people to present identity cards is yet another source of anxiety: "Who is looking at me and why?" So I think there are issues there for these groups in society. I am sure there are reasonably large numbers of people who would not even get onto a database anyway. So I think the idea that we will have an ID card system and an ID number system which will capture everybody, knowing exactly where they live all the time, is unrealistic. I am sorry, I am not sure I am being very helpful.
Q318 Janet Anderson: You actually think it is impossible for a system‑‑‑
Mr Vernon-Jackson: You will never hit 100 % of people with anything. I think it is highly unlikely. As the terrible events in Morecambe have shown, there are whole sections of communities and of people within the country who have almost no contact with anything official ever.
Q319 Janet Anderson: Do you want to expand on that a little?
Mr Vernon-Jackson: Well, I mean‑‑‑
Q320 Janet Anderson: Everyone has to live somewhere, do they not?
Mr Vernon-Jackson: Yes, but we do not have to---. If people live in a house which somebody else is paying for - for instance, take the example of people who are working illegally, or whatever, coming into the country illegally, working illegally, so not paying any taxes, working for somebody who is paying them in cash, who may also provide the accommodation and the transport to get to their work - where do these people ever come into contact with official organs of the state?
Q321 David Winnick: I believe that is what happened in Morecambe.
Mr Vernon-Jackson: Exactly. That is my point exactly.
Q322 Chairman: But is not the point at the moment that, of course, people who are not here legally who are working in that way will not get, and should not have, ID cards because we are not proposing to issue ID cards, or the Government is not, to illegal immigrants. Is not the point that at the moment many employers would say it is too easy for them to have forged documents and, therefore, they cannot be held liable for the fact they are employing illegal immigrants? If somebody goes for access to a GP amongst those people, they will not need to establish their identity. So does not the argument come from the other point of view that, indeed, an ID card in principle could enable you precisely to establish that people did not have a right to be here or did not have a right to be working or to use public services?
Mr Vernon-Jackson: One of the points I would take up is the access to healthcare. One of the issues that we have done a little thinking about is that some people's health affects other people's health. Do we really want to be denying access to healthcare to people who may not be here legally but who, for instance, have TB. TB is highly communicable. We have an outbreak in Portsmouth at the moment. Actually we want people with TB to go to the doctor to be able to get treatment, irrespective of whether they are here legally or not, simply because they have an effect on the rest of the community.
Q323 Chairman: That is at the discretion of‑‑‑. Nobody has ever suggested that somebody who is ill gets turned away in those circumstances.
Mr Vernon-Jackson: But do you create fear that people will be?
Q324 Chairman: I think what we are agreeing on is that there are a set of people who, in a sense, will not ever have ID cards; but that may actually be a positive thing in certain circumstances?
Mr Vernon-Jackson: Possibly, in some circumstances.
Janet Anderson: Thank you.
Q325 Chairman: Can I ask two other questions before we end. One is about ‑ this is for Mr Hall and for Mrs Berry ‑ whether there would be in the future any significance in how often the central database was accessed. We have read recently about people being refused mortgages because, by trying to find out whether they could get a mortgage on‑line, they have triggered several credit applications, and they are deemed to have made too many credit applications in a day and get refused all credit. We are familiar in police investigations with mobile 'phone records or cash-point withdrawals being accessed. Would we come to a point in the future where it is quite important to know, or quite significant to know, how often somebody has had their identity checked?
Mr Hall: I cannot see why it should be different from now. I mean, I think that depends on what the perceived significance is of frequent footfalls; and the industry is always seeking to find out more clearly the difference between someone who is simply shopping around, as it were, and someone who is serially going round a series of shops and trying to get credit fraudulently, because there is a close correlation between very frequent falls and fraud. I cannot see why any of that should change, because the source of the identity is a different database. I do not see it affecting eligibility for credit or the way in which a multiple‑‑‑
Q326 Chairman: You would not foresee the credit checking agencies wanting to know if a particular individual had had their identity checked by a lot of other people?
Mr Hall: For some other reason. No, I cannot see that. No, I cannot?
Mrs Berry: I suspect there would need to be some form of trigger points, particularly with regard to the problems that we were making earlier as far as stop/search is concerned. At the moment we are going to be expecting supervisors to review the number of stops that their officers are conducting without any real means of doing that, and I see some technology is assisting that to be more reliable, but you would have to put into the parameters of the system what those trigger-points would mean. In the same way, if I go on a stopping spree at the moment and if I use my credit card more than five times, it is not unusual for a 'phone call to be made to my home to question where I am and to tell my husband that I am using the card ‑ which has its problems ‑ which in one sense is quite reassuring, but in another sense is not quite so reassuring. I think those trigger points are already there and I think, in some respects, that is extremely comforting to us.
Q327 Chairman: Like Mr Winnick, I do not want to put words into the mouths' of witnesses, but if I try to summarise what I think we have been here saying this afternoon, please pull me up if I am wrong. Each of you, albeit with varying degrees of enthusiasm, support in principle the idea of an identity card, but it sounds to me as though each of you, to really make the best of it, would like some significant variation on what the Government may currently be proposing. In Mr Halls' case an unambiguous statement, that we have not yet had, that private sector organisations could have access to the database. In Mrs Berry's case to make the card compulsory and, indeed, to make it compulsory to be carried in the future, backed up with leaders which have not yet been promised. I think in Mr Vernon‑Jackson's case, possibly, the ability to add to any national card a lot of local information for local services. Is that a fair summary? I do not want to get anybody wrong.
Mr Vernon-Jackson: I think the opposition is that we are happy with the identifier number; we are not happy with the compulsory card; and if you have got three billion to spend on this, I think we could find other ways of spending it: social services and housing.
Q328 Chairman: I wanted to go on to from there. Given that, in a sense, no‑one has been promised by the Government the package that individually you are after, is it still worth going ahead with the set of proposals that the Government has actually put on the table rather than the ones that perhaps you have sketched out this afternoon? I think you were halfway through your answer to that, Mr Vernon‑Jackson, so I do not know if you want to pick that up?
Mr Vernon-Jackson: If you have three billion that government are choosing to spend on this, I think changing people's lives and making people's lives better, actually investing into social services for care for the elderly and building social housing so that people have decent homes for families, would make a bigger impact and a more positive impact on people's lives. That is a discussion within government, but I think we would remain uncertain about the benefits of ‑ are worried about the benefits of a card that is compulsory.
Mrs Berry: We believe we are on a road here and we are at the beginning of that road. I do not think that if we do not get compulsory carrying in the near future - we all need to prove our identity in a number of different ways at the moment. The way that we can prove it at the moment is not very satisfactory. Anything has to be better than the current. Whilst it may be voluntary in the first instance, our current means of proving who we are is unsatisfactory: so anything that has some credibility with bio‑metrics, has some reliability and is robust has to be better than the system that we have at the moment.
Mr Hall: We have seen the question of who has access to it as still within the realms of negotiation and consultation. There is quite a bit of fairly speculative arithmetic in the consultative documents about the credit link specifically; so we would naturally hope there would be seen to be mutual benefit between access by credit reference agencies and their contributions to the formation and accuracy of the database.
Chairman: Thank you. Members, do you have anything more?
Q329 David Winnick: Of the three witnesses, Mr Vernon‑Jackson first. If the whole idea was dropped, if Mr Blunkett changes his mind or there is a new Home Secretary with different ideas, your association would not be in tears?
Mr Vernon-Jackson: I think we see real benefits in a single identifier number that manages to pull different bits of Central Government together that do not appear to speak to each other. So I think that would be quite good in terms of joined up government, but in terms of the cards, our view is that we do not support a scheme where it is compulsory for people to have one and have real worries that it becomes one that is compulsory for some sections to continually carry.
Q330 David Winnick: You mentioned that if there are billions of pounds that could be spent on improving the lives of people, without putting words into your mouth?
Mr Vernon-Jackson: Absolutely, and I would be happy with those words.
Q331 David Winnick: If we leave Mrs Berry as the most enthusiastic - unless she wants to go further - would I be right, without putting words into your mouth, Mr Hall, that your enthusiasm is not quite on the level of Mrs Berry's?
Mr Hall: You would be right, yes, but I would not want you to put so many words into my mouth that we were not seen to be strongly supportive of the scheme.
Chairman: Can I thank all three of you. You have been admirably concise in your answers. We have covered a huge amount of ground. Thank you very much indeed.