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Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): Is the hon. and learned Gentleman concerned not just about the relationship with the state, but about the potential for third parties to gain access to our identity, which is deeply worrying? The contactless chips proposed will, in effect, give out a signal that can be read by anyone with access to an antenna. In Holland, biometric identity documents have already been read. Apparently, it took two hours to decrypt the documents. We all need to worry deeply that we are being forced to carry documents and to send messages from those documents to a database with enormous potential for the theft of our identity. If somebody steals my credit card
Mr. Garnier: I think I understand the point that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones) was making, and she is entirely right to make it. According to the Government's commercial case, a possible 44,000 private operators will have access to the national identity register. [Interruption.] I note that the Minister disagrees. I cannot imagine why that figure is in a Government document. Perhaps he has not read it.
Mr. Garnier: Even worse. May I assure the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak that the point that she has made needs making constantly. The Government will not listen to it unless it is made constantly. It has taken us nine months to get the Government to change from compulsion by stealth to compulsion by direct legislation for 20 per cent. of the population, but we should not forget that there are plenty of other opportunities for the Government to mine inperhaps I should say to eat into it like a weevil. [Interruption.] IndeedI see a bag of weevils sitting on the Government Front Bench.
If the Government argue that there is £1.7 billion-worth of identity fraud to be cured through
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identity cards, and on their own analysis they argue that so many millions are from insurance companies and the British Bankers Association, and so many billions from the Building Societies Association, how can it not be that those private concerns would have access to the data on the identity register?
Mr. Garnier : That is a perfectly good question, but I doubt that the hon. Gentleman will get an answer from this Government. The sum that the Government pluck out of the sky as being lost to the economy as a result of identity fraud, which has gone up from £50 million to £1.5 billion, is misleading because it does not separate out money laundering and all sorts of other criminal activities that come under that aspect of identity fraud.
I end where I began. I welcome the concession. It does not go far enough, but I welcome the little way that it does go. A huge tranche of this country's population will still be compelled without primary legislation to give up to the national identity register information that is private to them, and we will perhaps have further battles on that later, but meanwhile, despite the perfectly understandable concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to welcome and accede to this Government concession. Government concessions do not come very often. It usually takes the Labour party to defeat the Government to get a concession, but today the Government have put their hands up first, and that is to be welcomed.
Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab): I shall endeavour to restrict myself to the particular topics under discussion, although the temptation to enter into another Second Reading debate is rather large. This is a debate dominated by a high degree of irrationality, as the exchanges in the past five minutes have shown. The inability to distinguish between a system in which a private company can check the validity of an individual's identity card and access to the register, with all that that implies about access to the data, has bedevilled this really important project.
I want both the ID card scheme and the register to succeed, because if we do not start to tackle the problems now, whether they be identity fraud for commercial reasons, how to protect the employment rights of low-paid people whose jobs are being undercut by illegal labour or the use of identity fraud for terrorismall of them issues that make the case for ID cardsthey will be greater in 10 years' time. Therefore, we need to make a success of the project now.
I welcome what the Government have done. As my hon. Friend the Minister made clear, the change was proposed originally by the Select Committee nearly two years ago, and I would not be a Select Committee Chair if I did not point out that sometimes it would be nice if our reports were acted on when they were first written, not a couple of years later when it becomes convenient to do so.
We were right to talk about new parliamentary legislation for two reasons. The term "compulsory", which I hope I will come back to on the next set of amendments, is being used in different ways in this debate. It is perfectly clear that, in the first phase of establishing the national identity register, those who
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wish to have a passport, for example, if it is a designated document, will have to go on to the national identity register. However, leaving aside the issues of principle, at least in that process the individual is making use of a service that is of benefit to them, namely, getting hold of a passport. It is reasonable to assume that there will be a powerful driver for any Government to ensure that that process is convenient, effective and works quickly. We saw a few years ago how quickly the public respond if something goes wrong in an agency such as the Passport and Records Agency.
The second phase of the process is entirely different, because that will require individuals to register and go through a process of registering their biometrics, and so forth, for which they get nothing back immediatelyfor example, in the form of a passport. Getting that phase right and being sure that the system is designed to make the process as user-friendly as possible is critical. When we considered the Bill two years ago, we could not look eight years into the future and know the design of the process. It is right for Parliament to say that it wants not only a yes-no super-affirmative vote, but fresh legislation and an explanation from the Government of the day of how that part of the process, which is frankly much more difficult, will be handled.
David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): Demand for a good service does not always deliver a good servicethe right hon. Gentleman has previously mentioned the UK Passport Service, the Child Support Agency and pensions. A series of large Government IT projects have gone seriously wrong, despite the fact that serious political embarrassment follows such events.
Mr. Denham: We know that all public or private sector IT projects are not successful. The UK Passport Service and the Criminal Records Bureau are good examples of projects that ran into difficulty early on and that were turned around rapidly because it was unacceptable not to solve the problems. I suspect that the first phase of national identity registration will be similarI doubt whether the process will start without any problems at all, but I am sure that such problems will be put right quickly.
David Davis: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way and apologise for making a second intervention. The size and complexity of the task is one factor affecting the speed with which such issues can be put right. The CSA is a good example of a problem that is intractable because it is too complex. Is there not a risk that this particular project will fall into the same category?
No; the process is a good deal less complex than that of the CSA, which faces intrinsic problems such as income assessment and deduction of earningsI am sure that hon. Members do not want us to get into a detailed debate about that topic. Although the process must be repeated for millions of people, the inherent issues in national identity registration are simpler than those in the projects that have gone wrong.
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The Select Committee was right to press for separate legislation from the outset, because however well the Bill is scrutinised by us and the House of Lords, it is doubtful whether it will be perfect in six or seven years' time. Even if this were not a Home Office Bill, it would inevitably require a certain amount of amendment, clarification and adjustment in due course. It would be ridiculous to update this Bill and have a separate super-affirmative resolution on the question of extending it to the final 20 to 25 per cent. of the population.
The change is sensible, because it means that on the crucial step of extending the provision to the group of people who are more difficult to reach, Parliament will be able to take an entirely fresh look at the project's strengths and weaknesses.
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