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Mr. Marshall-Andrews: Perhaps I might make to the right hon. Gentleman the point that I would have made to the Home Secretary, had I been given the opportunity. Will the excellence of biometric testing not create precisely the trap—I know that many police officers feel this way—that we are seeking to avoid? All existing identification methods are imperfect; indeed, most ID card systems in most countries are acknowledged to be imperfect and are created to be so. If a card is forged, biometric technology will provide what appears to be incontrovertible proof of identity, thus giving criminals and terrorists the access that they would otherwise not have.

David Davis: That is a powerful point, and it is one reason why the technology has to be very effective. One problem is that the presumption so far has been that the technology is perfect. It is not, so we need to build in fail-safes, as is done with other such technologies. As I said, the system must work throughout—from the reader through to the software. No one writing about this issue outside the technical journals has so far addressed the question of what will happen if somebody who is serious about defeating the system, which will have tens of thousands of access points, makes a virus attack on it. We have to make the system foolproof.

Mr. Bill Tynan (Hamilton, South) (Lab): Does the right hon. Gentleman not accept that biometrics is the best and securest technology available, or is he aware of another technology that would deal with the problems that he describes?

David Davis: Frankly, I expect the Government, rather than this House, to check their technical information. Biometrics encompasses a whole range of
 
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technologies, such as fingerprint technology and iris reading, both of which can be fooled. It could also encompass DNA technology—that is too slow, however—and facial recognition. I suspect that the Government will have to run at least two completely different systems in order to reduce the odds of being defeated. If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, his question is one for the Minister to answer, not me.

Mr. Oaten: The issue is not just the effectiveness of biometrics, but the root or "seed" documents by which people obtain such information. If a terrorist were to bring in a false birth certificate, it could easily be accepted; as a result, they would have an identity linked to that document. How do we overcome that problem?

David Davis: The hon. Gentleman is right, in that that is one of the weaknesses with which the Government must deal; however, it is not an insuperable problem. The primary difficulty is with some European ID cards, rather than British ones. Indeed, in a letter to the previous Home Secretary, the Foreign Secretary pointed out that some ID systems are more easily fooled than others. We will simply have to ensure that our standards are high, but that is not the greatest problem. The difficulty is that certain foreign cards could stand in for British ones.

Mr. Browne: Part of the problem is that a significant number of the Members who have contributed to this Second Reading debate clearly have not read the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman will doubtless be able to point out to the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) that clause 11 deals with the very point that he raises. The hon. Gentleman is running yet another red herring by saying that people can come into this country with false identities. The Bill allows for the verification of information on such people against other databases—secure ones—before they can get on to the register.

David Davis: I will allow the Minister to intervene on me again—if he wants to tell me that the three-month period allowed for European citizens who come here has now been rescinded.

Mr. Browne: The right hon. Gentleman is extremely generous in allowing interventions. Given the number of Members who want to speak in this debate, I suspect that I will not get a significant amount of time in which to wind it up. As he well knows, the Government signed up to the principle that we cannot require from EU citizens such registration until they have been in the country for more than three months. So the overall legal framework within which we operate requires us to observe that three-month window. If it did not, we would not have been prepared to go down this route, for obvious reasons. That is why we argue in Europe for biometric ID cards, which is what these people used to
 
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travel into the country. Biometrics in respect of people outwith the European free travel area are going to become almost compulsory for travel around the world.

David Davis: The hon. Gentleman has made my point for me. As the Liberal spokesman said, one of the main problems is access to the system. If such access is easier in other European countries than it is here, and people can come here for three months, that will have to be dealt with. Simple agreement on Europe-wide biometricsis not enough; there will have to be agreement on standards of access, which must be sorted out.

Several hon. Members rose—

David Davis: I want to make some progress.

Mr. Cash: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

David Davis: In a moment. I promise that I will give way to my hon. Friend next time.

The debate that we have just had rather highlights my next point, because the question is whether the Government have in place the organisation necessary to introduce the scheme. We know that what they are proposing is one of the most ambitious technology projects that the country has ever seen. We also know that the Government have an abysmal record—I am not making a political point, because most Governments have an abysmal record—in overseeing large-scale projects, as with the millennium dome and new software for the Child Support Agency and for passports.

Only a couple of weeks ago, the national fingerprint identification system collapsed for five days—and that had the complexity of a pocket calculator by comparison with the national identity register. We have to address the issue of how to deal with the matter. I suspect that the Government will put it out to tender and we are going to have to think very hard about that process. I do not see the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee in his place, but I hope that he contributes to the debate because I would be interested to hear what he has to say. I promised to give way to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Cash: Will my right hon. Friend reflect on the fact that Australia had an opportunity to adopt identity cards—initially with considerable enthusiasm? Yet when the facts were known to the people of Australia, there was massive opposition to it and the whole proposal was dropped. Does he not think that, given the interaction of the proposals with the criminal law and the social security system within the EU, there is a real likelihood that the whole process will, through the legal framework of the justice and home affairs system, lead to a Europe-wide identity system enforceable through those laws by the European Court of Justice? Does he not regard that as an extremely dangerous prospect for 450 million people, quite apart from people in this country?
 
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David Davis: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. On Australia, it took place some time ago in the 1980s and the backdrop was a little different. As to the EU, I do not know the answer to his question, but it is precisely the complex interaction between the legal and technical problems that makes me think that this is a perfect project for examination by a Joint Committee, not just by the House of Commons on a limited programme.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): The shadow Home Secretary and the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration dismiss too readily the problems mentioned by the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble). The common travel area with the Irish Republic is quite different from our relationship with France, Germany and other countries. A person in County Louth can travel each day to Belfast and someone from Donegal can travel to Derry, but they are required under the Bill to have a pass or passport. They may not have an Irish Republic passport, but they can still travel. What is going to be done to deal with that problem, given that it is an open border that must, for a variety of sensible logistical reasons, remain so?

David Davis: All I can say is that the hon. Gentleman should have addressed that question to the Home Secretary rather than to me. [Interruption.] I do not recall accepting excuses. I have said throughout that we must have proper tests and that problems must be dealt with. It may be possible to deal with that problem: we may need a new arrangement for the common travel area, though it would be a large change to carry through.

My fourth test is the cost-effectiveness of the scheme. The introduction of the Bill saw the cost of the ID card scheme almost double overnight, from £3 billion to £5.5 billion. Given the time scale and the cost, the Government should not lose sight of the cheaper and quicker methods that could be put in place now to deal with some of the problems that ID cards seek to combat—having proper embarkation controls at British ports, for example, which is something that the next Conservative Government will put into effect as soon as possible. An end to fraudulent visa claims and taking action to control immigration are other examples. All those would address some of the problems that the Government propose to tackle with identity cards, and all of them are part of the next Conservative Government's manifesto commitments. They are the sort of cost-effective actions that the British people want to see happen here and now.


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