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Clause 29

Unauthorised Disclosure of Information

Amendments made: No. 3, in page 25, line 42, after 'issue,', insert 'manufacture,'.—[Andy Burnham.]

Clause 43

General Interpretation

Amendment made: No. 4, in page 37, line 29, after '1(5)', insert 'and (5A)'.—[Andy Burnham.]

Order for Third Reading read.—[Queen's Consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified.]

9.15 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Clarke): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I begin by giving thanks to a number of colleagues. First, I thank my ministerial colleagues, my hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) as well as my colleagues in the Whips' office who have worked so hard to ensure that the Bill is passed. I thank the Bill team—my official colleagues who have worked so hard and have been ready on all occasions to discuss with all interests how we can improve the Bill and take it forward in a variety of ways. I thank the House authorities and the Clerks for the way in which the business has been conducted through a time-consuming process.

The Bill before the House is based closely on that approved by the House on 10 February 2005, so this is the second time that I have come to the House to propose that an Identity Cards Bill should receive its Third Reading. The Bill before us has had more scrutiny than most legislation. We had a six-month public consultation exercise starting in 2002, an inquiry by the Home Affairs Select Committee starting in 2003 and further consultation on the draft Bill in 2004. The first Bill was introduced in November 2004 and ran out of time because of the general election, and we now have reached the point for the current Bill to be approved by the House.

I believe that the time has come when we need the benefits and safeguards that an identity cards scheme will provide both to individuals, who will be able to prove their identity securely and reliably, and in the wider public interest. The identity card is an essential step in the process of providing a clear legislative framework for introducing identity cards. I know that the system has been controversial; the issue itself is controversial. But I believe that we all need to understand that we already live in a society in which enormous banks of information are held about all of us, whether by financial institutions, employers, passport and driving licence authorities, health and education authorities or criminal justice agencies. Moreover, we all now face many occasions on which we need to prove our identity, whether to open a bank account, to take out a mortgage, to claim a benefit, to pass through a border control, to get a Criminal Records Bureau clearance or many other basic transactions of our day-to-day lives. I believe that an up-to-date identity cards system will
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make all those transactions easier for the individual and will also be beneficial for the state. It will provide an effective mechanism to tackle crime, to reduce identity fraud, and to improve legitimate access to services. I believe that it will not remove civil liberties but will give an individual greater control over his identity.

Some have alleged that the Bill will create a Big Brother state. I do not believe that. I believe that it will help to control that state. It is an ambitious programme, I acknowledge, but one that we are setting on the path to achieve.

Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con): Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Clarke: No, not at this stage. To meet many concerns that have been raised, changes have been made in the Report stage, which has just concluded, to provide additional safeguards. I will of course continue to listen and to act on constructive comments on the plans for delivering the identity card scheme once this enabling legislation has completed its passage through Parliament. We intend that the first ID cards should be issued by the end of 2008, and there will be further opportunities between now and then for the House to look at the detailed provisions to be set out in secondary legislation.

The simple fact is that the possession of a clear, unequivocal, unique form of identity in the shape of a card linked to a database holding biometrics will provide benefits to us all. It is why 21 out of 25 European Union member states already have ID card systems. It is why, in recent surveys, more than 70 per cent. of the public say that they support the introduction of ID cards. Moreover, biometrics are being developed around the world to improve the security and reliability of identity documents, including fingerprint biometrics on visas and our own facial image biometric passports, to be introduced in around a year's time.

Mr. Salmond rose—

Mr. Gerrard: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Clarke: No, I shall not.

That is why the introduction of identity cards needs to proceed incrementally, building on our plans for biometric passports.

Let me reassert the benefits of the scheme. First, ID cards will help to tackle identity fraud, which now costs the UK economy and society more than £1.3 billion a year. Secondly, a secure identity system will help to prevent terrorist activity, more than a third of which makes use of false identities. Thirdly, identity cards will make it far easier to control immigration and illegal working, and British citizens will be able to use their identity cards instead of a passport to travel in Europe. Fourthly, ID cards will secure the more efficient and effective provision of public services.

The scheme will not create threats to privacy or change the way we live our lives, as many have alleged. We have never proposed a scheme under which it would be compulsory to carry a card or which would require the production of an identity card to the police. The Bill also sets limits on the information that can be held on the register. It will not contain information about
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criminal convictions, financial records or political or religious opinions. Indeed, on Report, we have just amended the Bill so that it will not be possible to add a police national computer number to the register. No one will have access to the national identity register other than those operating it. What the Bill allows is for information to be provided from the register either with the consent of the individual or without that consent in strictly limited circumstances in accordance with the law of the land.

The introduction of ID cards will take place incrementally. The first stage will be to introduce the scheme and to enable everyone to register and obtain a biometric ID card when, for example, they apply for or renew a passport. However, a stand-alone ID card will also be available for British citizens who do not hold a passport. It will make it quicker and easier to obtain Criminal Records Bureau clearance for people who have already had their identity verified by obtaining an ID card. Registration will be enforced through civil, not criminal, penalties, which will offer flexibility to deal sympathetically with the circumstances of any individual case.

On costs, we estimate, as the Under-Secretary has already set out, that the total average annual running costs for issuing passports and ID cards to UK nationals will be £584 million. The Bill provides for a range of services to be covered by fees, such as approving an organisation before it can make checks against the register and usage fees for identity checks. It is right in my opinion that organisations benefiting from the checks should fund those costs.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews rose—

John McDonnell: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Clarke: No—[Hon. Members: "Give way!"] I have made it clear that I will not give way—[Hon. Members: "Why not?"] It is because we have only a short time for this Third Reading and I intend to set out the argument.—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The Home Secretary has made it clear that at this moment in time he will not give way.

Mr. Clarke: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. As I hope hon. Members will acknowledge, I often give way a great deal in such debates, but we have a short Third Reading debate and I intend to set out the argument clearly.

As we have said all along, we expect that most people will get their ID card along with their passport. That will give people the full benefits associated with having the most secure travel documentation, which can be used worldwide. Some 80 per cent. of the population hold a passport and the increased costs associated with recording biometric information and producing a more secure document would have to be incurred anyway, if the British passport is to keep its reputation among the most secure and trusted in the world.

Our current best estimate of the average unit cost of getting a combined passport and ID card package—as we have said since the outset—is £93. Some 70 per cent. of those costs would be incurred anyway, because of the worldwide move to biometric passports.
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For a variety of reasons, some people may choose to obtain a stand-alone ID card, but, in considering what the cost of this entry-level option should be, I have to take account of the overall finances of the scheme. Since the debate on Second Reading, the project has been through a further Office of Government Commerce review on business justification. The review confirmed that the project is ready to proceed to the next phase. An independent assurance panel is now in place to ensure that the work is subject to rigorous, ongoing challenge by experts, as well as major period reviews by the OGC process.

I have commissioned KPMG to undertake an independent review of the costing methodology and the key costs assumptions. KPMG has concluded that the methodology used to cost the ID card proposals is robust and appropriate for this stage of development. KPMG has recommended improvements, such as extending the sensitivity analysis and revisiting the process for estimating contingency and some cost assumptions. KPMG has confirmed that the majority of the cost assumptions are based on appropriate benchmarks and analysis from the public sector and suppliers, and I will be acting on its recommendations as we move towards procurement after Royal Assent. An executive summary of the report will be published in due course.

Of course, our estimates must be finely tested in the marketplace. The final determination of what the scheme will cost individuals and organisations depends not just on how well we have specified the requirements, but on how the marketplace responds to the challenge of delivering an efficient, effective and affordable scheme.

I welcome the recent statement of support from Intellect, which represents the leading companies in the IT industry. John Higgins, the director general, has said that Intellect members and the wider UK technology industry have the ability to meet the technological challenges created by the Government's ID card proposals. The technology being considered, which will form the basis of the scheme, has already been used in similar programmes across the world and is well established.

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