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Session 2004 - 05
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Standing Committee Debates
Identity Cards Bill

Identity Cards Bill

Standing Committee B

Tuesday 25 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


[Janet Anderson in the Chair]

Identity Cards Bill

Clause 12

Notification of changes affecting accuracy of Register

2.30 pm

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking) (Con): I beg to move amendment No. 132, in clause 12, page 10, line 32, at end insert

    '(1A) For the purposes of ensuring that an individual is able to comply with his duty under subsection (1), the Secretary of State must at least once every two years send in a prescribed manner to each individual to whom an ID card has been issued at his prescribed address a copy of the information recorded as at a prescribed date about that individual in the Register.'.

I welcome you to the Chair, Ms Anderson. Having glided effortlessly through clauses 9, 10 and 11 prior to our break, we now come to clause 12. It deals with maintaining the accuracy of the register, which will be achieved mainly through obligations on individuals to notify changes in relevant information. However, it does not create an obligation to audit the information contained on the register. The Government's record on the accuracy of information that is held on databases is mixed. That was made clear recently by the Criminal Records Bureau, which was shown to hold numerous inaccurate details of convictions.

While inaccurate information in the Criminal Records Bureau can be discovered through the issuing of a criminal conviction certificate, inaccuracies on the national identity register can remain undetected indefinitely. As well as there being obligations on individuals, which is understood and accepted, is it not arguable that we should try everything possible to ensure that entries are accurate and, furthermore, that such a stipulation should be written into the Bill? One way in which to achieve that would be to require details of the entry to be sent biannually to those on the register, so that such details can be checked.

The register should be as accurate as possible. Self-verification is the best way in which to ensure that. The Government may argue that such a procedure would cost a lot of money. However, much money will be spent on setting up the register, and it must be worth incurring a little extra expense to ensure that the information contained in it is accurate. Everything that we can do to help towards that end should be done, hence probing amendment No. 132.

Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): I welcome you back to the Chair, Ms Anderson. The addition that we would make to the Bill is simple. I hark back to an earlier debate in which the Minister seemed interested. The Australians have changed their identity card regulations by introducing a system of self-regulation whereby every so often—I am not sure about the time
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limit—the details of what is contained on their national register and identity cards are sent to the individuals for them to say that they are correct or that changes have occurred.

An Army identity card follows that precise pattern. Whatever qualifications or circumstances have changed for the individuals, their personal records—some of which are on the identity card—are sent to them every two years for them to update. Only by so doing are the records and cards kept straight. The two parallels are useful: first, that the Australians have thought it worth while to introduce such a requirement and, secondly, that other identity card schemes—albeit not national identity cards—have parallels. Such a requirement would be useful and cost-effective.

Mr. John Taylor (Solihull) (Con): I add my support to that of my hon. Friends the Members for Woking (Mr. Malins) and for Newark (Patrick Mercer) for amendment No. 132. I wish to draw a little homespun analogy with which all Members of Parliament will be familiar: once each year, we are sent copies of our entries in the Register of Members' Interests and asked to check and satisfy ourselves that they are still correct and then return them to the registrar.

The amendment is a commendable proposal. It lends itself to continuing accuracy in the record, and, in an indirect but perfectly healthy way, to keeping the registered and the registrar in dialogue with each other. That would be helpful.

The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration (Mr. Desmond Browne): May I add my welcome to those of other hon. Members to you, Ms Anderson? I am grateful for this opportunity to concentrate briefly on the issue of the accuracy of the register, which is at the heart of the whole scheme.

The Government are mindful that all practicable steps ought to be taken to ensure that data are entirely accurate, and that those to whom they relate are notified of information in that regard, where it is practical to do so. That would do nothing more than make us conform with the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998, which was partly enacted for this very purpose. I want to say where the basis of that accuracy will lie, and how it will be achieved.

In passing, I point out to the hon. Member for Newark that the Australians do not have an identity scheme; he is probably aware of that. For all I know, he may be right about the practices he mentioned to the Committee, but they might relate to the social security card scheme that the Australians have, rather than any identity card. However, that does not detract from his point.

If this scheme is to provide the standard of identification that we need, it is vital that the applicant's identity is verified in the first instance, before an entry is made in the register. Clause 11 enables us to do that, by virtue of checks and other sources of information. A Cabinet Office study on identity fraud published in July 2002 recommended greater use of biographical checks on applicants to prevent identity fraud; that is why the clause has been drafted in this way.
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The national identity register will be a new database, and applications will require checks to be made against other databases, such as Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency driver information, Department for Work and Pensions information on national insurance, and birth, marriage and death records, in order to establish a biographical footprint, and to protect against fraudulent applications, among other things. That information will give us a basis from which the register can go forward. It will be verified at that early point, and it will reach the highest possible standards.

The amendment would require the Secretary of State to send to each individual to whom an identity card has been issued a copy of the details recorded in his entry on the register every two years. Some countries—the Netherlands, for example—do that in their identity card scheme; a statement is delivered to the individual's recorded home address. We considered doing that, but we have rejected it for security reasons and to ensure that personal information is available only to the person to whom that information relates. We do not consider that it would be an appropriate way of ensuring that an individual is aware of the information recorded in his entry.

However, that does not mean that an individual will not be aware of his or her entry. All applicants will have data subject access rights under the 1998 Act, and we are looking at ways of ensuring that an individual will be able to read his or her card and the register entry as easily as possible. For example, we might be able to offer a service whereby an individual could read the information held on his or her entry securely via the internet or public service kiosks.

I hope that what I have said reassures hon. Members that we will be able to maintain security from the base of having the highest security standards from the outset, and that they will agree that the amendment is unnecessary.

Mr. Malins: We are all grateful to the Minister for his response. We are united in wishing that the register remains accurate. We thought that this amendment might be a useful addition, but we do not feel strongly enough to press it to a Division. Therefore, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Malins: I beg to move amendment No. 117, in clause 12, page 11, line 10, after 'who', insert 'intentionally'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 100, in clause 12, page 11, line 11, leave out '£1000' and add '£50'.

Mr. Malins: It is well to observe that we are dealing with the duties on individuals to notify the Secretary of State about changes of circumstances. Failure to do so involves a civil penalty of up to £1,000. The Minister will be the first to recognise that other clauses mention a number of actions, or failures to act, that could be very serious in terms of moral culpability. For example, in due course we will move on to clauses relating to having in one's possession apparatus for the purposes of forgery. That is serious and, in the minds
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of all normal people, seriously criminal. However, under this clause we are dealing with a slightly different position; we are dealing with the individual who is forgetful.

Many of us can be forgetful, hence amendment No. 117, which would make the provision read: ''An individual who intentionally contravenes a requirement . . . under this section shall be liable to a civil penalty''; that would replace the strict liability that exists at the moment.

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Prepared 25 January 2004