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Session 2004 - 05
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Standing Committee Debates
Identity Cards Bill

Identity Cards Bill

Standing Committee B

Tuesday 18 January 2005

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen: Mr. Jimmy Hood, †Derek Conway, Janet Anderson

†Allan, Mr. Richard (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD)

†Browne, Mr. Desmond (Minister for Citizenship and Immigration)

†Casale, Roger (Wimbledon) (Lab)

†Clifton-Brown, Mr. Geoffrey (Cotswold) (Con)

†Curry, Mr. David (Skipton and Ripon) (Con)

†Hoey, Kate (Vauxhall) (Lab)

Jones, Mr. Jon Owen (Cardiff, Central) (Lab/Co-op)

†McCabe, Mr. Stephen (Birmingham, Hall Green) (Lab)

†Malins, Mr. Humfrey, (Woking) (Con)

†Mercer, Patrick (Newark) (Con)

†Mole, Mr. Chris (Ipswich) (Lab)

†Mountford, Kali (Colne Valley) (Lab)

Oaten, Mr. Mark (Winchester) (LD)

†Prosser, Mr. Gwyn (Dover) (Lab)

†Robertson, John (Glasgow, Anniesland) (Lab)

†Russell, Ms Christine (City of Chester) (Lab)

†Ryan, Joan (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

†Salter, Mr. Martin (Reading, West) (Lab)

†Taylor, Mr. John (Solihull) (Con)

†Tynan, Mr. Bill (Hamilton, South) (Lab)

Colin Lee, Committee Clerk

†attended the Committee


[Derek Conway in the Chair]

Identity Cards Bill

Clause 1

The National Identity Register

Amendment moved [this day]: No. 1, in clause 1, page 1, line 16, leave out from beginning to end of line 4 on page 2 and insert—

2.30 pm

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

The Chairman: I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing the following amendments:

No. 4, in clause 1, page 1, line 17, leave out 'prevention or'.

No. 5, in clause 1, page 1, line 17, after second 'of', insert 'serious'.

No. 111, in clause 1, page 2, line 3, leave out from first 'of' to end of line 4 and insert

No. 2, in clause 43, page 36, line 32, after first 'crime', insert

Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): To reiterate, I am speaking to amendment No. 1, with overarching interests in amendments Nos. 4 and 5.

The basis of the Bill has to be terrorism. Without a mention of terrorism at this early stage we are missing an important point, which is why I should like to emphasise proposed subsection (4)(a) of amendment No. 1, which says:

Paragraph (b) refers to serious crime. I emphasise that everything that has brought the Bill to a head is predicated on what happened on 11 September. However, we might just pause for a moment and consider what has happened inside this country in
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terms of terrorism and international terrorism, and thus the importance of the first paragraph of amendment No. 1.

Unless we emphasise in the Bill that the register is designed to put facts about potential terrorists into the public and private domains, we are missing a trick in an area where the Bill could be quite useful. A register and a card can help to counter terrorism, but we must consider the matter differently from how we have looked at it so far. The main problem that we have faced inside this country over the past 30 years has been with a terrorist organisation that draws its recruits largely—and clearly I am being blunt—from certain sections of the community, and from certain families within those sections. I am talking about the paramilitary threat in Northern Ireland, and principally that coming from the Irish Republican Army and the Protestant paramilitaries. Information on home-grown terrorism has been relatively easy to gather. The dreaded aspect that one faced when considering the IRA was what people called a ''clean skin''—in other words, a terrorist who came from nowhere, had no previous form and no family or even religious connection to the cause that he or she espoused. Clean skins were unusual, but unfortunately, with the threat that we face at the moment, they will be the norm.

I should like to dwell on a series of arrests last summer, principally in Kent but in the midlands too, of a number of men who are Pakistani by birth or of Pakistani origin and were born in this country. Some of them are coming before the courts at the moment. It has been suggested that the case in which they were involved could have equalled the Madrid attack and the effects that that had on the Spanish Government and society.

If we are to prevent the sort of terrorism that, sadly, we have had to get used to over the past two or three years, we must realise that much of it will come from individuals who are born in this country and move, not necessarily to the countries of their origins, but to where the rest of their family comes from. I would not say that the point applies only to Pakistan, although it illustrates the point well. North Africa and a series of other countries also spring to mind, but I will not go into that now.

It is therefore crucial that if the register is to be of assistance to our security services and security forces in countering a new style of terrorism with a new style of counter-terrorism, the least that we can do is specifically spell out in the Bill that it is trying to face down terrorism, and that we consider international terrorism as part of the same deal. An accurate register will be crucial, and a card, if introduced in the right way, could be highly useful in countering such terrorism. That is another argument into which I will not go at the moment, but I am sure that the Minister will mention that we will deal with it later.

I strongly support the amendment; without it, the Bill will fail to achieve something that could have been achieved at an early stage.

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The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration (Mr. Desmond Browne):
In keeping with the spirit so far in our debate on the amendments, I shall endeavour to address some of the general points that have been made, in the hope that they can be laid to rest and we will not need to return to them, unless of course the context of later amendments requires reference to them.

Committee members are correct to devote some time to clause 1, because it is at the heart of the identity card scheme. It establishes the national identity register, and it sets out the statutory purposes for which the register is to be established and maintained. It also plays a key role in safeguarding the ID card scheme from function creep, which we will come to later; it will become apparent in the interoperation of clause 1 with other clauses.

The statutory purposes of the register are twofold: first, to facilitate a convenient method by which individuals will be able to prove registrable facts about themselves if they choose to do so, or are required to do so in private transactions and accept that requirement; and secondly, to provide a secure and reliable method by which registrable facts about individuals can be ascertained or verified where that is necessary in the public interest. Those statutory purposes are explicitly expressed in the clause, although not explicitly enough, or narrowly enough, for the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan).

Given that to some degree I am treating this as a clause stand part debate, I turn to some of the general points that have been made to which it is appropriate for me to respond. We ought not to confuse the purposes of the scheme, as set out in the clause, with the specific powers that the Bill provides. The scheme is difficult to follow—as, sometimes, is legislation generally—but it becomes even more so if the purposes of various parts of the legislation are confused with other parts that we have not yet debated. My first request to Committee members is that they do not accidentally confuse the purposes of the scheme with the specific powers that the Bill provides.

Clause 1 does not of itself empower anybody to do anything. It is a response to the Home Affairs Committee's request that the Bill should explicitly set out the wider purposes of the scheme. To see what powers the Bill provides, Committee members need to look at later clauses. It would be inappropriate for me to go through all of those powers, but I will give some examples so that Members may be guided through the process.

For example, clause 14 gives a power for limited identity information to be provided with the consent of the card holder, and clause 19 gives a power for information to be provided without consent in specified circumstances. The powers are very specific, whereas the purposes of the scheme are, understandably, wider. Both the powers on the provision of information and the purposes meet the hon. Gentleman's test of proportionality. I hope to persuade him of that as I continue to respond to the debate, although I suspect that that is a forlorn hope.

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I accept that

mentioned in clause 1(4)(e) is a wide purpose, but that does not mean, as hon. Members seem to suggest, that there will be carte blanche to provide any information for any purpose to any public sector organisation. For example, if there is a need to provide information without consent to a Government Department—say, to the Department for Work and Pensions for the investigation of a benefit fraud, in which it could be very relevant to know where someone lives—that would have to be spelled out in an order made under clause 19(5). The time to consider the details will be when such an order is laid before the House.

The hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) said that 51 registrable facts could be revealed whenever a person produces an ID card. I assume that his arithmetic involved counting the sub-paragraphs in schedule 1, but what he did not say is that the schedule includes some 20 sub-paragraphs of administrative information, which, of course, will not be provided by the applicant at all. That information includes details of every initial application, the date of every application for an ID card, information on the application itself, and details of when any ID card was reported lost or stolen. Those administrative details would not be provided. In fact, clause 14 prevents them from being provided when, for example, an individual uses an ID card to open a bank account.

Such administrative information might conceivably be of interest to the police for the prevention or detection of crime, and so could be provided under clause 19(3). However, it would also be of significant interest to the commissioner, and to any individual whose information was retained on the register who was conducting an audit trail to see what data were held about them, and what administrative decisions had been made in relation to that data. It is a consequence of the need to have an appropriate form of audit for the protection of the individual that such things are listed as registrable facts. With respect, it does the scheme a disservice to do that simple arithmetical calculation and to say in a pejorative way that there are 51 facts, and then to use that as some sort of argument against the collection of this information, as the hon. Gentleman has done several times.

Clause 1(5) defines the registrable facts and lists nine, not 51, items of information. Even if one adds the definitions in subsections (6) and (7), the total reaches only 16 items. Those 16 items are the sorts of basic identity information that anyone would expect an identity card scheme to include, such as name, address, date of birth, nationality and, for foreign nationals, the terms and conditions of their leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom. Much of that information—as has already been conceded, I think—will be held in various Government databases. I do not think that that is confidential or highly personal information.

I dispute the argument that the collection of such information in one database fundamentally changes the relationship between the individual and the state. I know that that is not the whole argument being made, but we need to put that part of it aside. We cannot
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continue to conduct our affairs on the basis that the figure of 51 can constantly be bandied about, as if the Government are seeking to know every single thing that there is to know about people and to put it on to a database. They are not. When one looks into the issue and disaggregates the arguments properly, one sees that we are talking about a comparatively small amount of information about people's identity, and it is information that the Government broadly know already, in any event.

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Prepared 18 January 2005