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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Cabinet Office (Mr. Jim Murphy): The national school of government was launched last week. As the latest component of the programme of civil service reform, it will support the priorities of the Government, increase professionalism and improve delivery and efficiency.
Nia Griffith: Many of my constituents work as civil servants or use their services. Can my hon. Friend assure the House that the national school of government will provide high-quality professional training for civil servants and help deliver better services for the users?
Mr. Murphy: My hon. Friend is rightly proud, as we all are, of the ethos of public service and the dedication of so many of our public servants throughout the country. The national school of government can be the best of its type in the world and can help deliver the reform of public services that she and I share a desire to introduce.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Cabinet Office (Mr. Jim Murphy): Steps to ensure openness include open advertising of all vacancies on the public appointments website. Feedback data from the website show a wide cross-section of people expressing an interest in public appointments.
Mr. Bellingham: Is the Minister aware that two recent reports show that a substantial number of public appointments have been skewed towards Labour party members? Will he publish a list of all appointments that were based on the membership of any party?
Mr. Murphy: I am sure that all hon. Members accept that it is important to listen to the opinions of people from all political parties. Cabinet Office public appointments are made in accordance with the Commissioner for Public Appointments code of practice, which provides a clear guide to the steps required to ensure a fair, open and transparent appointments process.
[Relevant documents: The Fourth Report from the Home Affairs Committee, Session 200304, HC 1301 on Identity Cards, and the Government's reply thereto.]
I remind hon. Members that this Bill is based on the Bill that was read a Second time on 21 December 2004 and approved by this House on 10 February 2005, that the public debate started under my predecessor in 2002 and that the draft Bill was subject to six months' public consultation and pre-legislative scrutiny by the Home Affairs Committee in 2004. The Bill has been well debated.
The Bill is enabling legislation to provide the statutory authority for a national identity cards system to be introduced to cover the whole of the United Kingdom, together with the national identity register to record information on holders of ID cards. It also gives legislative authority for expenditure on setting up the ID cards scheme and for charging fees.
In brief, the Bill establishes the national identity register; provides powers to issue biometric ID cards either linked to existing designated documents or as stand-alone ID cards; ensures that checks can be made against databases to confirm an applicant's identity and guard against fraud; sets out what information will be heldincluding biometricsand what safeguards will be put in place; enables public and private sector organisations to verify a person's identity, with their consent; includes enabling powers, so that, in future, access to specified public services could be linked to the production of a valid card; provides a power for it to become compulsory at a future date to register and to be issued with a card, which includes civil penalties against failure to register; creates a national identity scheme commissioner to have oversight of the whole scheme; and creates new criminal offences on the possession of false ID cards.
There has been general support for ID cards, but many serious, practical concerns have been expressed on both sides of the House, and I intend to address five of those concerns on Second Reading. First, I shall address the range of concerns around the Big Brother societyit has been described in other ways. Secondly, I shall address issues of cost, which are a serious concern for many hon. Members on both sides of the House. Thirdly, I shall set out the benefits of the scheme for both individuals and society. Fourthly, I shall address the concerns about the project's size, technology and scale. Fifthly, I shall deal with safeguards and legal processes. I shall give way at various points in my speech in line with that structure.
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We live in a society where information is held about all of useveryone in this House and everyone in this countryon a scale unfamiliar to our predecessors even as recently as 10 years ago. A vast range of information exists in our society today, including information on the internet that one can access simply by typing in a name, financial and bank details, health and medical information, police and law enforcement-related material, travel-related documentation and information about a person's telephone communications, driving licence, national insurance and tax. That range of information cannot be uninvented, nor can the globalised world in which crime is international but impacts on every community. Those are the realities with which we have to live.
We must address only two questions in considering how we deal with this so-called Big Brother society. First, in relation to each category of information that I have just set out, what protections currently exist for authorities to access data, for the right to see data, and for the right to use a service, whether it is a cash machine or a passport? In each of those areas there is a specific legal framework that regulates the information that exists about all of us. The first point that I want to make very strongly indeed is that nothing in the Bill changes any of those protections for any of those categories of data. There are issues about each of those categories of data that people can legitimately discuss and consider, but this Bill is not about those questions.
The second question is, can we verify that the information that exists about an individual is indeed about that individual? That is where identity cards come in and where the Bill is relevant. We need to protect our society in this globalised world, for the simple reason that, in many cases, identity can be stolen, whether it is a fraudster getting money from a bank account, a people trafficker providing false documents for a trafficked person, or a smuggler pretending to be their own father to deal with data. Such identity can be stolen. In other cases, complicated processes are now needed to check identity because it is not securethere are examples as simple as opening a bank account, getting a pass from the Criminal Records Bureau or getting a passport or driving licence.
I argue that the identity card has real benefits to the individual and society, and that it is a means of limiting abuse in our modern information society rather than a
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means of adding to it and creating it in a more complex way. It gives individuals the right to secure verification of their identity.
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