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Standing Committee Debates
Identity Cards Bill

Identity Cards Bill

Standing Committee B

Thursday 20 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 4

Designation of documents for purposes of registration etc.

9.10 am

Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): I beg to move amendment No. 31, in page 4, line 26, at end add—

    '(3) The Secretary of State must not make an order under this section unless a draft of the order has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss clause stand part.

Patrick Mercer: I welcome you back to the Chair for yet another day of delight, Mr. Conway.

The amendment will, I hope, be a relatively simple matter to explain, and I have absolutely no doubt that the Minister will see the sense of what we are saying and will help us with the amendment, which I think is important. Clause 4 deals with the designation of documents for the purposes of registration and the like. The clause says that

    ''The Secretary of State may by order designate a description of documents for the purposes of this Act.''

What are those documents? Does the provision mean that when one applies for a passport, one has to have an identity card? That would make eminently good sense as the Bill stands. But what other documents are we talking about? Would they include a driving licence, or a shotgun certificate? What documents will require us to register and to have access to an identity card?

Let us take the idea of the shotgun certificate. A fee is required for such a certificate. Would we therefore be required, under the clause, to pay two fees—one for the shotgun certificate and one for the identity card? I should be grateful if the Minister would explain exactly where the provision starts and stops, and deal in detail with the

    ''documents which a Minister of the Crown or Northern Ireland department is authorised or required to issue otherwise than by virtue of provision so made.''

To clarify, we are suggesting a simple amendment that would add a subsection (3) saying that the Secretary of State must not make an order unless a draft of it is laid before Parliament and is approved by both Houses. That strikes me as being eminently sensible. It will provide a check and will ensure that there is no mission creep—a ghastly phrase—in relation to identity cards. It will ensure that we know precisely how the cards are delineated and that we understand any financial implications of applying for other documents. It will also mean that, in every case, the Secretary of State will be required to explain, first
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to the Commons and then to the Lords, exactly what each document means.

Without the amendment, the number of documents designated may begin to proliferate. Each of the documents could mean the start of a Big Brother mentality. If that is not controlled by the Houses of Parliament, we could be allowing a degree of freedom that, in the wrong hands, may be abused and lead us into what most of us would agree are wholly undesirable areas.

To that end, I earnestly suggest that the Minister considers the amendment, which provides a useful safety net in this part of the Bill. It is straightforward common sense that we should have some control over those Ministers or Secretaries of State who are involved in issuing cards and permitting other documents.

The Chairman: Before I call the next speaker, I remind hon. Members that as the amendment is very broad, and as the clause is short, this may be treated as a stand part debate.

Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): I am grateful for that guidance, Mr. Conway.

We are very unhappy with the clause. The amendment that was tabled by the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) would improve it to the extent that Parliament would get the opportunity through the affirmative resolution procedure to debate more fully the orders that the Secretary of State presumably intends to bring in. We are talking about a regular affirmative procedure rather than the super-affirmative procedure, which we were discussing the other day, so I am sure that the Minister could straightforwardly agree to the measure.

The clause is difficult. The documents could be described as Trojan horse documents rather than as designated documents. They are a way of trying to introduce ID cards in a way that is sold to the public as being less painful and that disguises their true costs. The Government have come up with a cunning wheeze that means, ''We know that if we went out there today and said that everyone must get ID cards, that would be a problem, so we will designate classes of documents.'' They originally talked about passports and driving licences and now they seem to be saying that passports only will be involved. It would be helpful if the Minister clarified that.

The Government seem to be saying, ''If we designate these documents and say that everyone who applies for them must get an ID card, somehow it will have gone so far through the population that when we come along with a big stick later on and say that everyone must have them it will be a less painful exercise.'' That opens up a lot of scope for fudge, particularly over the costings. The Government have said that the cost of a biometric passport and ID card package is £85. They will designate the document and say to all of us, ''You have to pay £85 if you want a new passport, part of the cost being for the ID card.'' My fear is that there will be no clarity over which is which. Until ID cards are compulsory, I do not see why I should not have the option to say, ''No, I will just take the biometric passport.'' I accept that if I
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come along later and have to get the ID card separately, because the scheme has been brought in on a compulsory basis, that will cost more than if those documents had been issued together, but I do not see why I, as the citizen, should not have that choice.

The designated documents route is a sneaky way of trying to make compulsory what is being described as voluntary. The scheme is neither fish nor fowl, neither voluntary nor compulsory with the clause included. If the clause is to be included and the legislation passed, it would be far more appropriate not to designate any documents and to accept that the Passport and Records Agency could offer the ID card as an option to people who are applying for a passport. It could be a genuinely voluntary scheme with the warning that if people come along later and want to get an ID card separately, it may cost them more than having got the package together. Let us leave the package as a voluntary option and not fudge things.

As we have said throughout, from a good governance and good order point of view there are some huge dangers of cost creep—if not mission creep. The Minister has said with a slightly nervous smile that the scheme is the largest of its kind ever to be attempted. We believe that it will prove to be extremely challenging. The people who did the assessment of the technology for the Government said that the use of three biometrics is potentially hugely expensive and, again, has not been trialled anywhere.

We think that the costs will grow out of all proportion. It will not lead to a good governance situation if they then get wrapped up and disguised in Passport and Records Agency costs. It would be far better to keep matters separate. In a sense, the designated documents route is a way of conning the public into accepting something that they might not accept if it were presented as a separate package.

I caution against allowing the clause to stand part of the Bill, but if that is to happen, I hope that the slight improvement that has been offered by the hon. Gentleman will be agreed to. When we discuss whether or not to designate a passport, I hope we will have the opportunity to do that through the affirmative rather than the negative resolution procedure. I support the amendment.

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking) (Con): It is as well to understand exactly what the clause says and what we are expected to approve this morning. It quite plainly says that the Secretary of State can by order—that is not parliamentary scrutiny—designate a document. Anyone who applies for such a document has to apply for an ID card at the same time. The restriction in the clause is that the document that the Secretary of State can designate has to be one that

    ''a person has a power or duty to issue by virtue of provision made by or under an enactment''.

Those are interesting words.

The amendment, which we feel strongly about, has two purposes. First, it aims to ensure that Parliament has an opportunity to consider the Home Secretary's proposals by way of designation. Secondly, it aims to
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tease from the Government exactly what documents they not only have in mind, but may have in mind as time goes by.

That brings me to the first essential question. Does the Minister have any idea exactly how many documents there are in our society that fall within the description of

    ''a document that a person has a power or duty to issue by virtue of a provision made by or under an enactment''?

I am sure that the list of such documents is endless. We obviously have the passport, which we understand about, but the references made so far to function creep are very relevant under this clause. What about the driving licence? Can the Minister say something about that as well? But there are many other documents, which, in my judgment, are issued by an authority pursuant to an enactment, and which could, strictly speaking, come within the ambit of this clause. For example, what about a birth or marriage certificate?

I assume, by the way, that we are talking about copy documents as well as original documents. There is no reference here whatever to the documents being limited to original documents. The clause relates simply to anyone applying for a document, which brings me on to my next point. Under this clause, the person may be applying for such a document on behalf of someone else.

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Prepared 20 January 2005