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Earl Russell: My Lords, will the Minister respond to the point made by my noble friend Lord Dholakia about the cost of the cards to the poorest members of society? The cost comes very close to a week's income support. The Minister will be aware that such people are under an obligation actively to seek work, and that that obligation may take the form of exercising their rights of freedom of movement within the European Union. If that right should cost some members of the European Union more than it costs others, might that be found to be an infringement of Article 7 of the Treaty of Rome? If so, do council tax benefits and community charge benefits provide a route along which the Government might look for a solution to the problem?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I have tried to answer that question as fully as possible. As I said in repeating the Statement, we would also need to ensure that the concessions worked satisfactorily for those on a low income and other vulnerable groups. The noble Earl is right in saying that we would have to address that issue. Those without access to a form of independent verification of identity already feel disadvantaged and have greater difficulty in getting credit, and in other matters. For example, one of the constituents of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary had to get a passport for use in opening a bank account. We already have those difficulties. We understand them and will continue to look at such issues to try to ensure that, if identity cards are introduced, they are available to all on a reasonable
Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: My Lords, I welcome the measured Statement by my noble friend. Identity is important, certainly from a law enforcement perspective. The Statement has been welcomed by the police and other law enforcement agencies. Identity is critical when dealing with people. For obvious reasons, you need to know exactly who you are dealing with. Further to some of the comments from the Front Bench opposite, if we had taken that attitude a few years ago, we probably would not have developed fingerprints or DNA. Clearly, the necessary technology exists. Does my noble friend agree that the technology looks so good that forgery would be virtually impossible?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I endorse much of what my noble friend has said. I am always timorous about saying that something is impossible to forge, as we know the ingenuity of some criminal elements, whose sole purpose is to defeat anything that we seek to do. I endorse wholeheartedly the statement that forgery will be exceptionally difficult. The card will be more difficult to replicate than any other document that we have. It is therefore of major interest for us to pursue the issue vigorously. I also agree with my noble friend that the technological developments have benefited our ability to detect and deal with crime efficiently and effectively. We have an aspiration that those technological developments will continue to our benefit.
The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, will the noble Baroness explain why making it compulsory for someone on a low income to buy an identity card is not a tax? What she has just said, I could have heard in South Africa from Verwoerd, Home Secretary in 1947, arguing for the pass law. I could hear a Waffen-SS officer saying, "Ihre Papiere bitte". That is the road down which we are going if we make people have identity cards.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I would like to quieten the noble Earl's beating heart. We do not propose to make the carrying of papers compulsory. We will have two stages: I have explained the first, and the second will be debated. I do not agree that we might subsequently be accused of being improper in our actions, as implied in the examples that the noble Earl has given.
Lord Tanlaw: My Lords, we have to provide a lot of information to obtain firearms and gun licences, including eye-to-eye confrontation with a policeman, a visit to the home and a similar expense to that of an identity card. Yet there seems to be no decrease in gun crime. From questions asked in this House, the Government cannot say what proportion of gun crime has been committed by holders of current firearms or shotgun licences. If the Government are unable to monitor the information given in great detail by holders of firearms and gun licences, what hope is there of being able to monitor or distinguish the information that is to be given by identity cards?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, in trying to bring the provisions together, we have been assiduous in the crafting of the proposals so that they will give the best opportunity to monitor issues that arise. That is why we are doing it incrementally. There are a number of issues with which we must grapple. At the end of the first stage, we will have the information which will enable us to have a proper, full and robust debate about these issues. That is what we will do. Noble Lords should know that our attack on crime is becoming increasingly successful. Obviously, I hear what the noble Lord says about gun crime. But even there there are significant improvements.
Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, perhaps the Minister could return to a question asked by my noble friend Lord Russell about a statement in the Statement; namely, that as soon as the database is availablebefore the second stage of the processwe will commence issuing identity cards to EU and foreign nationals seeking to remain in the country. Is that part of a mutual process which will ensure that we will have to produce identity cards if we want to live, for example, in France? Living and working in each other's countries is part of the constitutionlong before the creation of the existing new constitutionof the European Union. How do those two things fit together?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the means by which the two things fit together is that, as noble Lords will know, there has been an issue for a while about what documentation is available to foreign nationals resident in this country for more than three months. As much as possible, we wish to make free movement backwards and forwards easier for those people. Noble Lords will know that the majority of our EU partners have an identity card which is also used for travel.
Making the facility available for nationals from countries in the European economic area will enable full compatibility with European law. It will not change the ability of our citizens to move throughout those countries using the passport, which is recognised as an appropriate means of travel. It is right that, as a group, this is an issue which we should seek to address. The noble Baroness will concede, too, that our European partners do not have the difficulties about an identity card in terms of the principles that exercise us. I hope that it would be very much welcomed by foreign and EU nationals who live here for more than three months.
Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, that is excellent news for those of us who have campaigned on the issue of national identity cards for years. Perhaps my noble friend will turn to the question of draft legislation and the manner in which it will be handled. We hear that there will be a Bill produced perhaps in the new year. Would that not be an excellent opportunity to use the pre-legislative scrutiny arrangements referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia? That would enable both Housesit is a joint committee structureto penetrate the argument very deeply and to get to the main issues.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, of course I hear what my noble friend says. I also know of his passion for these issues. I thank him very much in the way that I hope I thanked the noble Baroness, Lady Sharples, for her support. My noble friend is right. This is something for which many have hungered, and which some almost gave up hope of ever obtaining. I am very pleased to satisfy the noble Lord in that regard.
As to pre-legislative scrutiny, the chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee indicated that it will want to examine the Bill. We cannot make a commitment at present about the timing of the draft Bill. As I say, we intend to proceed by incremental steps. That is as much as I can say to my noble friend now. But I hear what he says; those matters will be looked at and taken into consideration.
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