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Mr. Clarke: Not at all. The introduction process that we have discussed links ID cards to the passport, possibly to the driving licence, and possibly to the Criminal Records Bureau. Those are all ways of introducing the card that are not linked to specific ethnic minority groups in any way. What the regulatory impact assessment means is that some people might have concerns about those matters, which is why I have sought to address that specifically in the House.
Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe) (Lab):
Will my right hon. Friend give way?
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Mr. Clarke: Not at this stage. I will do so later.
I argue that the ID card system is in fact a bulwark against the surveillance or Big Brother society, and not a further contribution to it. [Interruption.] This is a serious point. People must understand the nature of the society in which we now live. Today, large quantities of information exist for all of us, throughout our society. The question is how we best regulate that and deal with identity fraud.
Mr. Clarke: I will make some more progress at this stage.
I turn now to the second concern, which many Members across the House have raised with me: the cost of the scheme and the way in which that operates. I acknowledge that the concerns expressed by Members are genuine.
The starting point for the discussion is the biometric passport. As the House knows, the UK Government propose to introduce biometric passports to keep in line with developments in international standards through the International Civil Aviation Organisation.
Mr. Ben Wallace (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con): Will the Home Secretary give way?
Mr. Clarke: Not at this stage.
The first phase of biometric passports, in line with ICAO standards, incorporating a facial image biometric, will be introduced during 2006.
David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): Will the Home Secretary give way on that point?
Mr. Clarke: I will give way to a number of Members when I come to the end of this passage, as I have been doing.
In the case of Europe, facial image and fingerprint biometrics, in line with those standards, will be required in passports issued by EU states under Council Regulation 2252/2004. Facial biometrics must be introduced by August 2006, and fingerprint biometrics three years after the technical specification has been agreed. All EU member states will have to introduce the same biometrics into the EU common format residence permits and visas for nationals of non-EU states.
The United States has issued a further deadline for visa waiver programme countries to introduce facial image biometric passports from 26 October 2006. Biometric passports, or e-passports, incorporate an integrated circuit chip capable of storing the biographic information from the data page, and a digitised photograph or other biometrics. Once all those United States requirements are implemented, nationals of those countries not issuing biometric passports will require a visa to visit the United States. The current cost of a United States non-immigrant biometric visa is £100, requiring a personal visit to London or Belfast and currently taking 31 working days to make an appointment for fingerprints to be recorded, and a further three days to issue a visa.
Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend give way?
In a second.
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The effect of moving to a biometric passport is to raise the cost of the passport to of the order of £65 on each occasion. Members in all parts of the House must acknowledge that that can be avoided only if the United Kingdom were to choose to stand aside from the international biometric development that I have described, which would, in turn, lead to costs for those of our citizens who wish to travel in any given way. So that £65 is a cost that we meet without any reference to the Identity Cards Bill now before the House. That is an important and critical point.
On top of that biometric passport cost, the biometric ID card would cost an additional £25 to £30. That is the unit cost published in the regulatory impact assessment. It is not the charge that the Government agreed
Lynne Jones: Will my right hon. Friend give way?
Mr. Clarke: I told you that I will give way later[Hon. Members: "Ooh!"] My hon. Friend is very persistent and very effective in her arguments, if not always in her resolutions. I promise her that I will give way at the appropriate point. I rather liked the "Ooh!" from Members. I must try to acquire that effective tone.
As I have said, the £25 to £30 that I have described is the unit cost published in the regulatory impact assessment, but I emphasise that that is not the charge that the Government have agreed. The actual charge will be determined by the Government at the time of introduction, depending on the business plan for the card's introduction. It will include, first, the cost of producing the card following the tender process; secondly, it will include the income in respect of driving licences or the Criminal Records Bureau, for example, which we could use to deal with the costs associated with the card; thirdly, it will include the possibility of cheaper cards for poorer citizens, which many of my colleagues have argued is a necessary development; fourthly, there is the possibility of a maximum charge for the card, so that it is capped at a particular level.
Mr. Clarke: I will give way in a moment, but at a time of my choosing.
I intend to provide more detail on the Government's intentions before the Bill leaves this House, but as a result of that clarity, many of the concerns that people have about the cost will lessen. I want to emphasise one other point before I give way. The Bill already makes it clear, in clause 37, that once the legislation is enacted, Parliament has to approve the fees and charges for ID cards. That is done by way of the negative resolution, but I am prepared to consider changes in Committee, such as making the initial charges subject to the affirmative, rather than the negative, procedure, if that will give the House some confidence that the charging regime is being established in accordance with people's wishes.
Of course, the Government are entirely of the view that it would be ridiculous to have an expensive card that people were in some sense forced to buy. But
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that is not what we will have. I give way first to my hon. Friendmy admired friendthe Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones).
Lynne Jones: I thank my right hon. Friend for his kind remarks and for giving way. What is the status of the proposed EU-wide passport with fingerprint biometrics that he mentioned earlier? Is it just a proposal or a definite agreement? Will he also address the question, raised by the Opposition, of the cost of accessing the data held on an individual, and will he say how long it would take to get that information and to make any changes to it, should the individual in question identify an error?
Mr. Clarke: On my hon. Friend's second point, I have already made it clearI hope that she accepts that this really is the casethat individual companies and private-sector organisations simply cannot buy the database. On her first point, as far as the United States is concerned, it will do what it does irrespective of anything else. On the European Union, the regulation to which I referred is binding on the Schengen countries, although not necessarily on us. However, it is expected that all EU member states will have to introduce the same biometrics into the EU common format residence permits, and into visas for nationals of non-EU states.
I should point out to my hon. Friend and to others who are concerned about this issue that in the view of all observers, there is absolutely no doubt that the development of biometric travel documents in the ways that I have described is the future. Given that environment, we would seriously disadvantage the citizens of this country if we did not go down the biometric route.
Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the letter that he sent to our party on this issue, which we have found helpful. But will he confirm to this House that none of the data that we are discussing can be dispensed outside this United Kingdom? The Taoiseach has made it clear that the Irish Government are going to go for this and reference has been made to some form of cross-border arrangement. That would be very serious indeed, when the members of the security forces and others walk with the threat of the IRA on them. They would not need to gather news about threats; they would get it if Government data were available. I would like an assurance on that from the Home Secretary.
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