Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Blunkett: No, no. If people are asked to produce their driving licence and they do not have it, they are asked to attend a police station with it. If they attend a bank and the bank wants to check their identity, it will accept an ID card. If they do not produce an ID card, it will expect to see a passport or some other immediate form of identification. The question has been put, "If you want to get a passport, will you have to produce your ID card?" No; when people get a passport, they will get an ID card, which is the point of the system. They will not have to carry the ID card everywhere they go, but they may well choose to do so.

On Second Reading, which will occur before Christmas, I hope to disentangle and demystify the proposals in the Bill. The process has been a struggle and we have consulted on the matter for the past three years—on 14 December, it will be three years since the issue was first raised with me on Radio 4. A Sub-Committee of the Cabinet first considered the matter in January 2002; then we had a major consultation; then a draft Bill was produced for scrutiny; and now we have a Bill. Around 80 per cent. of the population are up for it and are on board. It is sad that those who are paid as professional politicians to study such things seem to understand less and less—and here is one of them.

Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey) (LD): I am not persuaded about the case for ID cards, and I do not think that the Home Secretary will persuade me. Is the difference in practice or in principle? I share his view that the Government's duty is to protect the state and citizens, but does he share my view that for a free-born British citizen who has not been convicted of any offence, the presumption should be that the state does not intrude in their lives and hold information on them, rather than the opposite? Will he accept that we should have minimal state interference, not creeping state interference?

Mr. Blunkett: The hon. Gentleman has demonstrated my point. The Bill spells out that we do not intend to hold any more information than is currently held because of a range of requirements, including driving licences and passports. We currently have the largest
29 Nov 2004 : Column 382
take-up of passports in the world—we believe that 93 per cent. of the population will have a passport in the next three years. We will require the same information for identification on the clean database.

We will debate the clear database and the ID card system on Second Reading, in Committee and on Report. I hope that we will improve the Bill, and if hon. Members feel that safeguards and measures can be taken, I am happy to continue that process. That is why we responded so positively to the Home Affairs Committee report and took on board many of the proposals, including the separate card, the overarching commissioner and the safeguards that the Committee recommended. We built those in precisely to reassure people that, far from taking greater information and holding it, we will in fact require less. In relation to the census, for instance, we will be able accurately to determine who is in the country, and where, in a way that is not as intrusive as the current census, whereby one can be fined for giving wrong information or failing to fill in the form.

We need to take a deep breath on this. I think that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) mentioned the word "principle"—

David Davis rose—

Mr. Blunkett: The right hon. Gentleman gives me an appropriate moment to sit down, because it takes my breath away to hear the word "principle" from Liberal Democrats.

David Davis: In the spirit of the constructive approach that the Home Secretary is taking, one matter that has not been addressed is that over the years the databases held by the Government have become increasingly available to other departments of Government. For example, it used to be the case that Inland Revenue data could not travel outside the Inland Revenue. That in itself introduces a serious issue of privacy and access to data. Does he intend to deal with that in the coming Bill?

Mr. Blunkett: Yes, I do. Verification is absolutely crucial in relation to the transfer of data. Let me be clear about this. The point of the biometric identifiers and the clean database is not to facilitate the card but to ensure accurate identification of the individual in order to verify that they are who they say they are. It is as simple or as complex as that.

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate) (Lab): I hate to disappoint my right hon. Friend, but the prospect of identity cards is very much opposed in my constituency. Setting aside the issue of what people perceive to be a possible infringement of civil liberties, the concern that has been expressed to me rests on the verification of identity that is presumably safeguarded in the form of a biometric card. That leads me to this question: how many people will be required to have a machine that can verify that the card presented to them is genuine? Will every policeman on the beat have to carry a small machine? Clearly, every police station will need one. What will be the inherent costs of that over and above the introduction of the cards?
29 Nov 2004 : Column 383

Mr. Blunkett: I am sorry that my hon. Friend takes that view and has asked that question, but not because such questions are not valid—they were dealt with through the consultation and the draft Bill. I am happy to undertake, as part of the development of the legislation, further consultation and information sessions. It would be sensible to do that inside and outside the House.

We have made it clear that for most verification purposes facial recognition will be fine, because the level of verification required will be minimal. In situations where it is necessary definitely to determine identity, where there is doubt about the identity, or where the facial recognition clearly gives room for doubt, readers will be available to enable verification to take place in locations where it matters most—for example, where free public services such as hospital services are provided, where people are seeking permission to work, or in major police stations that deal with organised crime. That would automatically be fed back to the database. There is no difficulty about this at all. People will not go round seeking our identity for its own sake, but for verification purposes as regards entitlement to services or to work, or to avoid multiple identities or the fraudulent misuse of identity.

While I am about it, let me get rid of the myth that we are creating an identity card similar to that in other European countries. Incidentally, I should put it on record, because I have heard senior politicians make this mistake, that the United States does not have an identity card—it has an insurance number, which is not the same thing. No European country has biometric cards or a clean database. The difference is profound, but we shall revert to that on Second Reading.

Simon Hughes: Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Blunkett: I do not want the hon. Gentleman to have an apoplexy, and I shall therefore give way.

Simon Hughes rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. Perhaps I could reinforce the Home Secretary's words. We are not discussing Second Reading of the identity card Bill.

Simon Hughes: Does the Home Secretary agree that there is all the difference in the world between applying for a driving licence, which is required for something that people do not have to do but can opt to do, or applying for a passport—some colleagues have never done that—which gives protection when travelling abroad, and an identity card? With an identity card, there will be no choice. Am I right or wrong?

Mr. Blunkett: The Bill, on which Parliament will vote, will provide that the development of biometrics for secure passports will be accompanied by that of a database that makes the biometric worth putting on the passport. It is not only for travel to other countries, thus saving the passport holder large sums of money in future—$100 a throw per individual for the United States—but it will make it possible to deal with matters
29 Nov 2004 : Column 384
that I have spelled out, such as avoiding forgery and multiple identities. When the biometric is placed in the passport and registered on the database, a biometric card will be issued to the owner of the passport and an additional charge will be made on top of the main cost, which is incurred by secure passports that use biometric identifiers and the database, to ensure that people have an easy-to-use separate card, as recommended by the Home Affairs Committee.

We believe that it is right to bring together various agencies in the new Serious Organised Crime Agency to safeguard ourselves from organised crime. I believe that the House agrees with that. We want to do that because it will add value, allow agencies to cut overhead costs, ensure the necessary sharing of information in the new agency—that did not historically happen—and ensure that investigation and intelligence go hand in hand. We believe that, by putting the agency together, we can work more closely with the police throughout England and Wales on cross-boundary activity and do a better job of working with our partners in Europe and elsewhere on transnational organised crime.

Clearly, it is critical to deal with specific issues that have worried hon. Members. The most obvious is animal rights terrorism. I believe that we would all welcome the ability to get new laws on the statute book as quickly as possible to deal with extremists who threaten life and liberty. As one of those under threat, according to their website, I am keen to get the provision on the statute book as quickly as possible.

Next Section IndexHome Page