Identity Cards Bill


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Mr. Garnier: Subsection (5) sets out the registrable facts, which are further explained by schedule 1. Will the Minister explain something? Many things may not appear as registrable facts, because the schedule is written in permissive, rather than mandatory language. For example, the expression,

    ''The following may be recorded'',

is found in most of the subsections. Presumably, it would be possible—unless the Minister tells us otherwise—for none of the information in subsection (5) to be recorded in the database.

Mr. McNulty: I will return to the broader point towards the end of my remarks. I do not accept the thrust of what the hon. Gentleman says, not least because much of my time in Committees has turned into wonderful ''Call My Bluff''-type word games around permissive versus prescriptive and ''may'' versus ''shall'' or ''might''.

More often than not legislation is—not least for the reasons of undue specificity about which I talked earlier—written in permissive terms rather than otherwise. However, the most important point is that, except for the provisions about additions, which we will come to, this is the definitive list of things that are permitted to be in the database, up to and including all the elements here. How and in what form each item is recorded is a matter for further debate and, as the hon. Gentleman keeps saying, a range of regulatory and other powers. That is what I want to come to now. I will go to Newark first.

Patrick Mercer: The Minister will always be welcome to come to Newark, as he knows. In view of his point about all the bodies and the rest of it, just how far back does he expect this to have to go?

Mr. McNulty: That was my next point exactly. The UK Passport Service has already carried out a personal identification project which has included enforced checks on the identity of passport applicants, partly as a prelude to the implementation—not roll-out—of biometric
 
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passports. It needs to start that process. There is nothing new, as in the Financial Times ''shock horror'' splash three or four weeks ago that 4 million people would be interviewed for passports next year. That has been around ever since we determined that we would take that route.

In order to prove the certainty of an individual's identity, previous addresses for the past six years have been requested. The checks to be made on applicants for identity cards will follow this pattern as surely as the implementation of the ID card scheme follows and builds on the introduction of a second generation of biometric passports. There may be an occasion where earlier information on an address will be sought—for example, if an applicant for an ID card has lived abroad but has an early address history in London, or that individual's identity is not sufficiently clear from the history of five or six years.

The Committee will agree that that recent history, rather than life history, is an important part of an individual's identity. The proposal to ask for address history for six years is not on the face of the Bill. It will be contained in the application form which will be prescribed in regulations under clause 5(1). That is one of the elements of the Christmas tree of statutory instruments and regulations. Six years is the proposed policy, building on what UKPS is already doing, rather than a legal limitation.

We need to reserve the right, which is why it is not specific on the face of the Bill, to go back a bit further if that is required to substantiate an individual's identity. If someone has lived in this country for a long time, gone away for five years and is just back and needs to look for their card, there are footprints of an individual's ID in his address history. That is why we need to go that way. Back to the wadi in Italy.

Patrick Mercer: I would be delighted to take the Minister to a wadi in Italy if he is interested, but perhaps more importantly and without wishing to be too specific, this matter is of great interest to me in the Newark constituency. Would the Minister expand on the Travellers' cases that I outlined earlier?

Mr. McNulty: Clearly, we will need to outline a clear policy for people with a transient lifestyle, those such as the hon. Gentleman's dear departed father who are not in a fit state to determine their recent history, those who simply cannot remember where they have been for the last five or six years and other vulnerable groups. There cannot be universality in how we capture the information and all those areas will need to be explored in detail, not least because of the discrimination legislation. That is perfectly right and proper.

But as ever, we legislate for the general and go down to the specific in policy terms as and when we need to. Those are entirely fair points that we need to take on board. It is not a charge that I resile from at all. This is not, as some have suggested, a substandard Bill. It is, and is entirely meant to be, enabling legislation. The elements and details mentioned are fair points and we need to take them on board in detail.
 
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6.15 pm

Amendments Nos. 123, 124 and 142 would lessen the efficacy and the security of the individual's identity that is necessary on the database. Let us consider the statutory purposes and the other elements that we have just discussed. We should accept that in terms of illegal working, immigration controls and those elements, it is important to establish someone's residency status as part of their identity. By that, we do not mean two up, two down, semi-detached, bungalow or whatever else. As the Bill indicates, we mean their residency status under immigration law. That is a fair piece of information to include.

By the by, serious concerns were raised on Second Reading about the racial and ethnic dimension in terms of vulnerable groups. Without reading out my other little ditty on race relations and race discrimination legislation and how the Bill fits in with those—although I would happily provide it for the Committee—I want to make it clear that we will have to be alive to those concerns as increasingly detailed deliberations of the project arise. Again, a fair point is raised. At one end of the issue is biometrics and how it works for assorted racial and ethnic groups. It runs all the way through to what the Bill does not do. It does not somehow reinvent the vagrancy legislation, the sus laws, stop and search and all the other canards that are thrown at it. Within those two parameters there are real concerns about ethnicity, on which we need to elaborate.

In terms of controls on illegal working and immigration controls, the points made in the amendments relating to dropping the residential status provision are not well made. Holding one contact address lessens the substantive depth and security of the Bill. I want to make a couple more points and then I will happily sit down.

We are asked whether clause 1(5)(g) could allow police national computer numbers and national health service numbers and the records to which they relate to be added to the list in schedule 1. That was an entirely fair question. We have repeatedly made it clear that there is no intention to add criminal or medical records to the register. Paragraph (g) is about numbers issued to people for identification purposes and information about the documents to which those numbers relate, such as the number and expiry dates of passports or related immigration documents. It does not provide power to add all the records held about a person just because they might include a number.

The next issue is worthy of greater explanation. The only people who will have access to PNC records are properly authorised persons, such as police officers. People working on the administration of the ID card scheme will not have such access. As I understand it, unless the entire database was run by, and for, the police service, with everyone having due access and clearance for access to the PNC, it does not follow that capturing a PNC number allows access to the record.

By the bye, I want to explore one point further, and perhaps return to it later in our deliberations. It might be the one about which the hon. and learned Member for Harborough was getting agitated. It is simply this:
 
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the existence of a PNC number for an individual implies a criminal record. If the PNC number is recorded in the public domain in the sense of the verification process, one does not have access to the substance about a criminal record and the offences that a person has committed. In such circumstances, people who perhaps should not could have access to the fact that someone has a PNC number and therefore a record. It does not follow that even if someone captures the PNC number on the verifiable end of the database, it allows them to unlock the door and see what is on a person's record. The existence of the PNC implies that there is a record. I need to consider that in more detail and will come back to the Committee.

Mr. Garnier: Access by officials or police officers to the register is clearly going to be an area in which there will be great public concern about the invasion of people's privacy and private lives. In the current regime, which I am sure that the Government support, if the police want, in certain circumstances, to invade my house, they have to get a search warrant from a court. Does the Minister not think that the same philosophy should apply to coming not into my house but into my private space in so far as it is an electronic representation of my private space?

Mr. McNulty: Again, the police, like other public bodies, even though there is that exemption under the DPA, need to substantiate why they would want to go through somebody's record in detail. They are allowed to, but not on a fishing expedition. The form of that is elaborated on later in the Bill—in clauses 19 to 23, I am told, as if by magic. There are safeguards not only against state agencies, for want of a better phrase, going fishing in the database but against misbehaviour and abuse of the database by those who manage the system. As we shall see, there are stringent sanctions and other safeguards against anyone hacking into, breaking into, misusing or abusing the database. That is entirely right and proper. We can come on to the filters provided by the later clauses of the Bill in more substance when we need to.

It was also mentioned that clause 1(5)(g) would allow a person's national health service number to be added to the schedule by affirmative order, although there is no immediate intention to do so. Information about a document to which a number relates does not stretch to include medical records. If the Committee needs more information on that, I shall try to provide it. I shall reconsider the wording of clause 1(5)(g) to ensure that it is absolutely clear that it does not permit criminal or medical records to be added. If I need to, I shall come back to the Committee on that. The important point to note, without repeating the points that I have already made on the amendments, is that the areas of the Bill to which the amendment refers are part of the interlocking set of filters. Those filters start with registrable facts, go through, as we discussed, the five reasons of substance behind the Bill and the creation of the database, and go on to the two key statutory purposes of the Bill. We need to see those all interlocking. There cannot be changes or additions to
 
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schedule 1 unless they stand up to the test of both those filters, the five and the two as outlined in schedule 1.

 
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