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Kali Mountford (Colne Valley) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend explain how he envisages a biometric passport working without the support of a register? If such a passport is presented in a country that requires a biometric passport without there being a register to check that the information is correct, how on earth is it to operate?
Mr. Gerrard: That question ought to be put to just about every other country in the world that is introducing biometric data on passports, because they are not going to have a national register such as the one proposed in the Bill. For instance, biometric passports are being introduced in Germany, yet German law specifically prohibits the construction of a database using that information. Biometric documents are also being introduced in Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland. Those countries are going down the road of introducing biometrics, but without setting up a national database.
The United States is often cited as the reason for our introducing biometric passports, because we will not be eligible for its visa waiver scheme if we do not have them. When we turn up at the airport in the US, a machine will compare the biometrics on our passport with our own personal biometrics. That is how the system will be used.
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A comparison will be made between the document that we are carrying and our personal biometrics. That will show that I am the person whose biometrics are on the document. The United States will not then try to check back to a national database, either in this country or anywhere else. If it wished to, there would need to be some serious amendments to the Bill to allow access by other countries to the information on our national register.
Mr. Ellwood : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, to ensure that a terrorist did not get on to an aeroplane, if everyone were compelled to be on a register, their ID card would somehow have to be verified, to prove that they were the person whose details were on it? That means that we should need some form of verification device at every airport. That would make the ID card redundant, because everyone would be on the register, and the Minister confirmed earlier that there would be verification systems at airports. The question of whether ID cards should be compulsory is therefore academic.
Mr. Gerrard: We must be careful not to exaggerate what can be done through biometric checks at airports or anywhere else. It is possible to check whether I am the person whose details are on a card. But let us consider the number of people who come in and out of the UK or any other major country every year. About 80 million people, of whom 60 million are British citizens, come in and out of British airports each year. It is inevitable that many of them will be travelling without biometric documents for a long time to come. We must be careful not to exaggerate the level of security that we can achieve. I am not suggesting that we should not make those checks if they can be made, but the issue that really concerns me is not the general principle but the question of compelling someone who applies for a biometric passport to be on the register.
Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government's need to use this element of compulsion to get the scheme started suggests that it would not be a popular scheme if it were left to the voluntary initiative of individuals to decide to register on the database? By doing this, are not the Government recognising that the scheme will be unpopular?
Mr. Gerrard: The scheme will get less and less popular as people learn more about it. That is already happening, and it will continue once it starts to roll out. This has already been experienced in other countries: Australia is an obvious example. The more people knew about the system as it started to come into operation, the less popular it became. As I said earlier, the tactic is very clear: try to do the easy ones first. Someone who is applying for a passport, and who needs that passport, will feel that they have no alternative. They will feel that if they do not put their name on the register it could cause them serious problems in other ways.
On a point of clarification, my hon. Friend cited Denmark as an example of a country that was introducing biometric passports without a
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compulsory register. I used to live in Denmark, and I know that it has had a compulsory personal register for more than 40 years.
Mr. Gerrard: There is a difference between a personal register and one that contains all our biometrics. My understanding is that Denmark is not going to have a register that contains all the biometric information as well. So the checks that are carried out there will be on a one-to-one basis using the passport. That is certainly the case in a number of other countries.
Lynne Jones : The passport authority already has a database containing all the information submitted when we apply for a passport. However, that is a static database that contains only our name, address and the other details that we submit. It does not have all the potential of the Government's proposed database for audit trails and for tracking where we are going or inquiring about our whereabouts. Neither does the present database have the vast complexity that will render the new one liable to all kinds of problems.
Mr. Gerrard: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. We all know that information about us is stored on databases. The question is whether the proposed database is acceptable. Is it something that we want?
Mr. Gummer : I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has noticed that, in this discussion, we are changing fundamentally the attitude towards passports. The passport is not a privilege offered by the Government to citizens. It is a right of citizens to get the support of their Government when travelling abroad. If the Government insist that we cannot have that right without compulsorily entering into something else, it is the first example of a change in the relationship between Government and subject. This is not an easy thing to bring about; it is a fundamental change to what the passport means. Inside our passports, there is a promise by the Government to do all that they can to enable me or any passport holder who is a British subject to move round the world unhindered. However, it will now become a privilege offered by the Government to such people as will sign up.
Mr. Gerrard: That is a very important point. I referred to it earlier when I mentioned the right to leave and re-enter the country. These proposals do represent a change in the nature of the passport. In fact, they are beginning to change the passport from being a document that facilitates travel and can be used to seek assistance if needed to one that is becoming a sort of identity document.
It is strange that an EU citizen exercising freedom of movement will be able to come in and out of the UK without having their data recorded on the national register, unless they want to remain here for more than three months. As a British citizen, however, I might find myself in the position of not being able to leave the country without having my biometrics recorded in that way.
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Mr. Garnier : The position is even more extraordinary than that. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there is a free travel area between the Irish Republic and the United Kingdom. Unless the Irish Republic buys and uses identity card scanners that match ours, the system will break down. So we should have not only the three-month allowance for touristsor touring terrorists, or anyone elsebut a hole on the western flank. The Government simply have not got their head round these issues. It is important for the House to realise that the hon. Gentleman is describing but part of the picture. It gets worse as one explores it further.
My final pointgiven the limitation on time for this debate, and that I want to allow other Members the chance to speakis that the Bill is a form of creeping compulsion. It is not genuinely voluntary. That is the key to this amendment: to introduce a system that is, initially, voluntaryexactly as we said that we would do in the election earlier this year.
Mr. Garnier : I am grateful to the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) for the careful way in which he opened this debate. I can assure him that my party, at least, will have listened carefully to all that he said
Mr. Garnier: I see that the Wolfgang element has emerged. I assure the hon. Gentleman that no Government run by my party would bundle such people out or have them arrested under the terrorist legislation. I look forward to the support of the Liberal Democrats later in this debate, and I assure them that if they need protection, a Conservative Government will protect them from the increasing activities of the police and the state. Many Members might think that the Liberal Democrats are in need of quite a lot of protection. At this stage, however, I want to concentrate on the important issues that the amendments allow us to discuss.
The hon. Member for Walthamstow began his speech by discussing the concept of the designated document. We had that discussion at some little length in Committee, and at no stage were the Government able to tell us precisely what they meant by the category of designated documents that they were going to include. What we discovered, which was instructive, is that the list is open-ended, undefined and designed to allow the Government, through clause 5, slowly but surely to allow a greater category of documents to become designated.
In Committee, the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) and I discussed all the kinds of licences that one can get at a post office, and the Government had absolutely no idea whether those would be designated. We also realised that 20 per cent. of the population have never had, and never will have, a passport, which represents a huge proportion of the
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British population. In Committee, the Minister of State said:
"We have made no secret of the fact that registration on the database will ultimately be compulsorywe want universal coverage. That means two things: it might be appropriate to designate other documents, and it might be that the designation of such documents means a faster coverage of the entire population."[Official Report, Standing Committee D, 12 July 2005; c. 177.]
At no stageI am sure that the Minister will confirm thiswas he able to produce a list of those documents that he hoped would become designated. Through the Bill, the Government are therefore asking us to give them a blank cheque simply to increase the creeping designation of documents. That is a wholly unhealthy way to design a piece of legislation, and it is even more unhealthy for Parliament to give the Government unseen powers over the citizen and the way in which he or she conducts his or her life. I therefore urge Members to listen carefully to what the hon. Gentleman said.
I will leave the Liberal Democrat spokesman to deal at greater length with amendments Nos. 39, 36, 37 and 38. Clause 5, however, deals with applications relating to entries in the register, and with the powers that the Home Secretary will give himself, which we have not seen in any written form, to compel us as citizens to do what he wants. For example, he will be able to compel us to provide such information as he thinks fitwhich is undefinedfor the purpose of verifying information that may be entered in the register about an individual in consequence of his having made an application to go on the register. One is given the impression that applying to go on the register is something for which the Government are deeply grateful, and that it is a voluntary activity, but it is notit is distinctly compulsory and the limits of the Secretary of State's powers are undefined. The Government really ought to have the self-confidence to condescend to let us see the statutory instruments containing the 61 powers that they intend that we should be bound by. That is in parentheses, however.
Under the Bill, individuals may be required to attend a specified place at a particular time in order to register, and to give up information about themselves to go into this huge, great national registerthis great bucket of private information that will slosh around between the various Departments and agencies, and to which private companies might even have access for a fee. If we consider the creeping way in which the Bill gives powers to the Government, it might well be that aspects of this data register will be available to certain private companies. As the Government farm out their functions to private companies, and if that is to work properly, those private companies must have access, if not to the whole of the information, at least to sections of it. I urge Members of the House to be very careful before they allow the Government to move down that road.
Let us assume, however, that one lives in the Outer Hebrides, Orkney or Shetland, and there does not happen to be a suitable place to register on those islands, or let us assume that one is in rural Devon, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire or even Bournemouth[Laughter.] Let us assume that one will be required to travel some considerable distance, at one's own expense,
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to this gulag, where the Government will have one fingerprinted, photographed and otherwise processed. Why should the citizen be compelled, at the Home Secretary's direction, to travel around the country looking for the place where they must provide all this information? Why should he be compelled to travel to such a place to have his fingerprints and other biometric information taken and recorded, when one bears in mind that these are by and large not exactly secure methods of determining a person's identity?
Let us consider fingerprints. In Leicester, which is the nearest large city to my constituency of Harborough, the Government subjected people to the fingerprint test in a pilot scheme to see whether it would happily provide a sensible biometric system. Of the 772 people who submitted their fingerprints in Leicester, 642, or 83.16 per cent., were identified correctlythe lowest rate of any test centre in the United Kingdomand there was a failure rate of almost 17 per cent. in matching the individual to the fingerprint. Across the country, approximately 45 million to 48 million people over the age of 16 will be required to add to the convenience of this Government by providing an entry on the register and giving in addition the information found in the schedule. Seventeen per cent. of between 45 million to 48 million people is a very big number, and yet this is the system that the Government are compelling us and our constituents to adhere to. There is not simply a smack on the wrist but a finea civil penaltyof up to £2,500 if an individual or one of their family members over the age of 16 fails or refuses to do what is required by the Secretary of State under one of the as yet unseen statutory instruments.
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