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Ms Abbott : On the question of the database, as if the scenario that the hon. Gentleman outlines were not frightening enough, as one of the few Members who has had occasion to see their security file, I have to tell the House that it was full of duff information, and that I find the idea that duff information could be rolled forward in that way even more alarming. The proposal is bad enough if the database is accurate, but if the database contains inaccuracies, it is made much worse.
Mr. Oaten: I do not want to get into what may be inaccurate, but I certainly agree that the concerns about such misinformation suddenly becoming accessible to so many individuals are troublesome. If such a system were used in the health services in some way and, for example, a woman presented herself to a doctor about a termination, would that information be held on the database? What other organisations could gain access to it?
Mr. Oaten: The Minister disagrees from a sedentary position, but he must recognise that there is real concern, particularly when public services are linked to the database, about what can be held and who can gain access to that information.
Mr. Garnier: The situation is made worse by the fact that this is an enabling Billit is devoid of detailso those questions cannot be answered. I do not think they can even be answered by the Government, who hope that we will shut our eyes to the difficulties that lie ahead and take the Bill on trust. That trust does not exist, either in the House or among the public, and the hon. Gentleman should highlight those concerns further.
Mr. Oaten: The hon. and learned Gentleman is absolutely right. We are being asked not only to sign a blank cheque for the costs involved, but to sign up to all sorts of function creep that can be added to the proposal.
I want to turn to whether or not the proposal can operate in reality. We have concerns about the database, but our latest concern, which the Government have not addressed during the debate, is whether or not the biometrics will work in the first place. The Government helpfully did their own study, and what did they find? They found that, on face verification, 33 per cent. of
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faces could not be recognised; on fingerprint verification, 19 per cent. could not be recognised; and, on iris verification, 2 per cent. could not be recognised. [Interruption.] I am not surprised that the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality wants to leave because there are difficult answers to be given.
The failure ratesup to a third on facial scansimply that a lot more work is needed before the biometrics could be trusted. I am no mathematician, but even if the Government got the failure rate down to 3 or 4 per cent., with a population of 60 million, far too many people could end up being denied services or being hassled because the scheme had not operated properly.
Patrick Hall (Bedford) (Lab): With regard to the efficacy of the iris biometrics, why is the hon. Gentleman ready to dismiss the Cambridge university report alluded to earlier this afternoon? Does he not think it premature to dismiss an examination of the iris recognition immigration system that will be introduced at Heathrow airport? Can we not learn from those initiatives? Is the hon. Gentleman not prepared to keep an open mind about that in the light of what will take place?
Mr. Oaten: The Home Secretary has been telling us all afternoon that we should listen not to the academics but to the Home Office, so I am taking his advice and listening to the Home Office's study, which shows those appalling failure rates. The system failed not in an academic study but in a live situation, with real people using the equipment.
I want to touch on the Bill's civil liberty implications, which have not been thought through in great detail, by picking up on an intervention that I made during the Home Secretary's speech. I have a very real concern about the fact that certain ethnic groups will regularly be asked to show their cards. That concern relates not to the policeI accept the Government's promises in the Bill that the police will not be able to ask such questionsbut to access to public services.
"As pressures grow on public services, service providers will have to bring in complex procedures for checking a range of documentation as the old assumptions that if you are here you are probably here legally is no longer acceptable. There are also cultural problems about getting service providers to ask only certain groups for proof of identity for fear of being accused of discrimination."
There it is in print; it is extraordinary that the Government admit in the regulatory impact assessment that only certain groups will be asked for proof of identity. That is the proof that the Bill could have an impact on ethnic minorities.
Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab):
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that hospital trusts currently have the legal requirement to establish whether patients are legally entitled to NHS treatment so that if they are not, they can be properly charged? That applies to
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visitors to this country with long-standing conditions who present for treatment. If he is opposed to asking such people whether they are entitled to NHS treatment and to charging them for that treatment, will he say so, because he would thus be arguing against the whole principle of identifying people's entitlement to services, not an ID card?
Mr. Oaten: I am opposed to the compulsory system towards which we are heading which will, in the Government's words, put pressure on front-line public services to require certain ethnic groups to show proof of identify, despite the fact that I would not be asked to show the same proof of identity.
Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): Is my hon. Friend aware how out of kilter Labour Members are? Wales, which has a Labour-led Administration, has voted to oppose the mandatory use of identity cards for access to public services. Labour Members need to realise that other members of the party of government in other parts of the United Kingdom have already rejected the proposal.
I want to address the question whether the scheme will be voluntary or compulsory. The Government say at this stage that the scheme will be voluntary, but surely that is slightly disingenuous. Are we not heading towards a situation in which perhaps half hon. Members in the Chamber will have to have an ID card in three or four years because their passports will be due for renewal, while I will not need an ID card because my passport is not due for renewal until 2012? There will be a compulsory element to the scheme for perhaps half the population as their passports gradually approach the time for renewal.
We are in a real mess. The system will mean that over the next few years it will be compulsory for some people to have an ID card, yet some people will not need a card because their passports will not be up for renewal and others will never have to hold a card because they do not have passports. However, at some pointwe have not been told whenthe whole system will become compulsory, so we will all be required to have ID cards.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. We will have a two-tier societya some-in, some-out societyin which ID cards will be compulsory for some but not others. I do not understand how the system will work in such circumstances. I accept that the police will not be able to ask individuals to show their cards straight away, but if they asked people to take their ID cards to a police station within three or four days, as they will be able to do, the individuals could simply say, "No, because I don't have a passport and I don't need an ID card," and the police would have no idea whether they were being told the truth. What would happen in those
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circumstances? What is the point of a scheme that one half of the population has to opt in to but the other half does not?
We need to wake up to the reality of what the country will be like when the scheme becomes compulsory. What kind of state will we live in? People will have to take their families to a processing centre miles away, including granny, who has never had a passport, so that she can be put through the humiliating process. There will be long queues at the processing centres while people's fingerprints and irises are scanned, and then a considerable cheque to pay for the whole family will have to be signed. There will also be costs every time people move house. People will have to have their faces and irises scanned when they visit their GPs. No wonder public opinion is shifting on the issue. It is no longer the case that 80 per cent. of people are in favour of the scheme. Opinion is shifting as people are finding out the details of what the Bill will do, and it will shift even more.
The public know that this £1 billion project will go over budget, that these pieces of plastic will not tackle terrorism and that the system will be neither compulsory nor voluntary. The database will make the Child Support Agency mess-up look like a tea party. People who look like an illegal worker or a terrorist will be stopped and asked to prove their identity under the scheme. People will have to turn up at centres miles away from their homes at which their irises and fingerprints will be scanned in an intrusive way.
If someone had said in 1997 that eight years later we would have a Labour Government who had tried to abolish trial by jury, who wanted to lock people up under house arrest at the say-so of a politician, who tried to remove benefits from asylum seekers and who tried to ban freedom of speech, it would have been unbelievable. Now, in about four hours' time, the Government will add to that list by trying to introduce compulsory ID cards. The scheme is illiberal, wrong and will not work, so we will vote against it.
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