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Mr. Denham: I shall begin by saying something that will comfort the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis). Again, I shall quote the Home Affairs Committee report on ID cards, which addressed the question of the use of language:

Ministers have got themselves into a little bit of unnecessary difficulty through that choice of word.

In reality, people must accept that if they want a passport, they will have to go on to the national identity register, and the question is whether that is justifiable. As a supporter of ID cards and the national identity register, it seems to me that that approach is right and sensible. It would be nonsense to go through the entire process of collecting one set of biometric data and storing it with all the relevant background information for the purpose of issuing a passport, and then to run an entirely separate exercise in parallel to collect slightly different biometric data and store them on a different identity register in order to have an ID card system. Running the two systems together will be far more convenient for the citizen, and it makes much more sense in terms of building a system that has integrity and security. Furthermore, it will certainly be far more cost-
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effective. Moving towards ID cards and a national identity register means that using passports as a designated document is the sensible way forward.

To be fair, the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden spent most of his speech attacking the principle behind the measure rather than the use of the word "voluntary". He attempted to argue that we should not require people to go on to the national identity register as part of the process of obtaining a passport because the risks posed by the national identity register are so immense that it is unjustifiable to ask people to go on to it. That basic contention lies at the heart of the entire debate about ID cards, but those fears are misplaced.

The scheme's opponents have failed to make substantive arguments. I know that it is slightly bad form to quote one's own intervention and the response to it, but I shall do so on this occasion. When the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden made a powerful point about the dangers of bringing different databases together, I asked him to name two pieces of data that are kept separately and that he thinks it would be dangerous to bring together. Hon. Members will have noted that he could not name two pieces of data that we should not put together in one place. He mentioned medical records and criminal records, which have nothing to do with ID cards, and names and national insurance numbers are stored together on plenty of databases. He could not establish what would go wrong if two particular pieces of data were stored together.

Mr. Wallace: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the register will contain extra detail that is not currently held on other databases, such as the footprint of questions put to the new database and when someone last went to a doctor? It will also contain NHS numbers and criminal record numbers, which will be taken from one database and put on another.

Mr. Denham: The hon. Gentleman has not made the case why different bits of data should not be brought together.

David Davis: When the right hon. Gentleman raised that point, I was dealing with amusing heckling. I shall take up his point in a way that may embarrass my party, but never mind. A previous Chancellor—he is now Lord Lamont—became known as our "flexible friend" because of one or two pieces of data in relation to a credit card. The simple point is that it allows fishing expeditions, which people undertake if they are trying to embarrass somebody or to find something that puts them in a difficult position. The easier those fishing expeditions are, the more dangerous it is to the privacy of the individual.

6.30 pm

Mr. Denham: Let me say in passing that two of the suggestions made by Opposition Members about what would on the database are incorrect. The right hon. Gentleman says that there will be fishing expeditions. That is to assume something unjustifiable—that nothing
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in the law that we are being invited to pass, nothing in the system of regulation, and nothing in the system of oversight can ever be expected to work. He conjured up an image of huge numbers of individuals with a right of access to the database. First, that is not true. Secondly, those people who will be allowed access to the database for the purposes of crime prevention, for example, would be able to do so if they were not able to access that information in another form. Given that all the information is already on a Government database and can be accessed under existing crime-fighting powers, the Bill gives no significant increase in access to the people about whom the right hon. Gentleman is worrying.

The only new issue that arises is that of the audit trail about an individual registration. That would be subject to exactly the same controls that exist on access to information that is already on the Government database. Throughout this debate, not only today but previously, I have struggled to understand exactly why access to that audit trail by proper and regulated authorities for the purposes of crime prevention is seen as massively detrimental to the interests of the individual. It is not; in fact, it is just as likely to be of value to the individual. Let us take as an example the hypothetical situation of a Chancellor of the Exchequer who had been accused of shopping in Thresher's when he wished to say that he had been in no such place. In those circumstances, the individual would have had access to the audit trail and been able to prove that he had been nowhere near Thresher's on that occasion. The audit trail is of far more advantage to the individual than to any other authority.

Frank Cook : Is it not true to say that these checks can be done only with the cardholder's prior consent?

Mr. Denham: That is right, with the exception that is always there in law of the detection and prevention of crime, which is subject to its own specific regulation and oversight. It is well established in this House, and has been on many occasions in relation to many sources of information, that we have given the police and the security services access to that information for the purposes of fighting crime and defeating terrorism. The Bill introduces no new principle and no new threats to the individual.

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): My right hon. Friend is going through the arguments in a cogent way that will convince many people. We may be able to introduce more and more safeguards into the system through encryption and so on, but the key issue on legislation of such importance is to ensure that we have the confidence of the British public. We can do that in two ways—by putting it to them in a general election in which they can vote for that system, or by having them buy into the system through personal decisions. When we put it to them in a general election, they voted for a voluntary system. The Bill does not allow them to have that, and the only way in which we can give it to them is by an individual decision on a voluntary basis, as the amendment suggests.

Mr. Denham: As my hon. Friend knows, manifestos are funny things. I thought that I had read the education
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section fairly carefully until I read the education White Paper. One is never quite sure what is really in the manifesto until a few months later.

It has been pretty clear throughout that the Government intended to link the issuing of ID cards and the establishment of a national identity register to passports. That has never been a secret. It was clear at the time of our Select Committee report, when we were working on the assumption that driving licences would also be included. There has been no deception of the public. No danger is brought about by bringing the data together.

Mr. Cash: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Denham: I should like to make a little progress.

Furthermore, no significant danger has been introduced by access to audit trails, given that that is supervised. The third question is whether the database can, by virtue of its very existence, be hacked into by people trying to get a list of identities that they can use to mimic or fake them in some way. Of all the issues in the debate, that needs to be taken the most seriously. When our Committee heard a wide variety of technical evidence on these questions, I was convinced that there are no insuperable or unknown technical obstacles to designing the database in such a way as to make it free from such attack. There will be a huge responsibility on Home Office Ministers and their team to get those technical questions right, but it is an entirely resolvable problem.

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