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Orders of the Day

Identity Cards Bill

[Relevant documents: The Fourth Report from the Home Affairs Committee, Session 2003-04, on Identity Cards, HC 109, and the Government's reply thereto, Cm 6359.]

Order for Second Reading read.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): I inform the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg).

5.8 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Clarke): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The discussion is an important milestone in the lengthy dialogue that the country has had on identity cards. The debate is of long standing, but it has increased in intensity in the aftermath of the terrorist atrocities in the United States on 11 September 2001. However, the Bill needs to be considered on broader issues than matters of national security alone.

In preparation for the legislation, we have had a six-month public consultation exercise, an inquiry by the Select Committee on Home Affairs and further consultation on a draft Bill. The Government listened carefully to the many comments that were received. Changes have been made both to the Bill that we are debating and the plans for delivering the scheme.

I assure the House that the Government and I will continue to listen to and act on constructive comments and proposals as the Bill goes through its various stages, but I want to emphasise that, both in principle and in practice, the case for it is in my opinion very strong. Quite apart from the security advantages, there will be enormous practical benefits. ID cards will potentially make a difference to any area of everyday life in which one already has to prove one's identity. Examples are opening a bank account, going abroad on holiday, claiming a benefit, buying goods on credit and renting a video. The possession of a clear, unequivocal and unique form of identity, in the shape of a card linked to a database holding biometrics, will offer significant benefits of various types.

Moreover, the help that the cards can offer in tackling fraud will save tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers' money. Some £50 million a year is claimed illegally from the benefit systems alone through the use of false identities—money that could of course be far better spent on other public services.

Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): The Home Secretary says that £50 million has been claimed in benefits because of false identities. What would it cost the Department for Work and Pensions to implement an identity card checking system? I believe card readers will cost between £250 and £750 each.
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Mr. Clarke: I shall deal with the costs at the appropriate point in my speech, but I hope that it is clear to everyone that fraud in the benefits system and other public services is unacceptable and that we should do whatever we can to deal with it as effectively as possible.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): Those who succeed in repeatedly creating fraudulent credit cards are clearly very efficient at it. Is my right hon. Friend absolutely certain that the first cards on the market will be the genuine ones, not those that are fraudulently produced?

Mr. Clarke: I am. Perhaps I could confirm that by making another point. Credit card fraud has been a major issue. When I was first a Home Office Minister, I chaired a meeting of all the companies concerned and the various police agencies, which led to the PIN system that is now being introduced throughout the country. That had to be introduced because existing credit card security simply was not adequate and led to hundreds of millions of pounds worth of fraud. The biometric card that we propose is a further refinement that will enable things to be dealt with far more effectively.

Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): May I help the Home Secretary answer the question of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan)? The DWP said that there would be 4,500 identity checkers, each costing a minimum of £250. That means that £1.1 billion would have to be spent to save between £20 million and £50 million a year. If there is depreciation over 10 years, it will cost £100 million a year to save between £20 and £50 million. Does the Home Secretary consider that a good deal?

Mr. Clarke: I do not accept the figures given by the right hon. Gentleman or by Liberal Democrat Members. As I have said, I will come to the costs later.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): The Home Secretary helpfully listed services for which he thought identity cards would be useful. The Scottish First Minister has said that identity cards will not be compulsory in Scotland for access to Executive services. Does that mean that they will be compulsory in Scotland, or not?

Mr. Clarke: It means exactly what the First Minister said, which is that the system in Scotland will decide how the cards would be used for access to services there. That decision will be made by the Scottish Parliament and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's parliamentary colleagues—if they are still working with him—will make their voices heard.

Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South) (LD) rose—

Mr. Clarke: I shall make a bit more progress and then give way to another Liberal Democrat.

The point that I want to emphasise in considering this question is that the drive towards secure identity is happening all over the world. For example, under current plans, from next autumn, British tourists who need a new passport will have to have a biometric one to visit the United States, or a biometric visa instead. We
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will rightly have to bear the costs of introducing the new technology to enhance our passports in any case, but I believe that we should take the opportunity of that investment to secure wider benefits, such as those that I have just set out.

The security issues here are critical and they need to be faced up to by those who oppose the introduction of the scheme. A secure identity scheme will help to prevent terrorist activity, more than a third of which makes use of false identities. [Interruption.] A third of terrorist activities make use of false identities and we need an identification process to deal with that. It will make it far easier to address the vile traffickingin vulnerable human beings, which ends in appalling tragedies, and the exploitative near slave labour or forced prostitution that exists as a result of the traffic in people. It will reduce, as we have just discussed, identity fraud, which now costs the United Kingdom more than £1.3 billion every year.

David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend recognise that his predecessor, when giving evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, conceded that identity cards, including biometric ones, would not have prevented the kind of atrocities that we saw, tragically, in Istanbul and Madrid, and therefore there are high expectations, with regard to terrorism and many other factors, that in practice are not likely to be realised?

Mr. Clarke: My right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), in his evidence to the Select Committee, simply emphasised the straightforward point that there is no panacea, no rabbit that can be pulled out of the hat, in the form of identity cards or anything else, that will solve all the issues of international terrorism. The issue is whether such measures will improve our capacity to deal with international terrorism. My right hon. Friend said that they will, and that is what I say.

Mr. Hancock: Now that the Home Secretary has confirmed that everyone in the United Kingdom will have to have an identification card, when will he decide to make it compulsory to carry it, so that, if it is to be effective, it can be used and challenged on the day?

Mr. Clarke: That proposal is specifically excluded by the legislation. I shall come to precisely that issue later. It is one of the myths about the proposal that the Liberals continue to perpetuate without any foundation at all.

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe) (Lab): Since I introduced this proposal as a private Member's Bill some years ago, I have had overwhelming support from my constituents and many others around the country. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Spanish police have said that identity cards have been helpful in investigating both the identity of the victims and the identity of the killers in the Madrid bombing?

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