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Business of the House: Charities Bill [HL]

3.6 pm

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That leave be given to advance the Third Reading of the Charities Bill [HL] from 9 November to 8 November.—(Baroness Amos.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

BBC Charter Review

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the Select Committee appointed to consider and report on the review of the BBC Charter have leave to report from time to time.—(The Chairman of Committees.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Business

Lord Grocott: My Lords, I want to give the usual advice about speaking times. Today's Second Reading debate has attracted 33 speakers. With a target rising time of ten o'clock, that gives around 10 minutes. If Back-Bench contributions are around 10 minutes, we shall meet the advisory finishing time of ten o'clock.


 
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Identity Cards Bill

3.7 pm

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

I trust that your Lordships will forgive me as there may be a touch of déjà vu in presenting to you today the Identity Cards Bill for its Second Reading. That is because the Bill is based very closely on the Identity Cards Bill that I also presented to your Lordships' House for Second Reading on 21 March. That Bill ran out of time, as your Lordships know, because of the May general election. The Government were re-elected on a manifesto which contained a clear commitment to introducing identity cards and hence the Identity Cards Bill was reintroduced. This time, it should be able to complete its parliamentary passage.

The Bill before us has had more scrutiny than most legislation. It started with a six-month public consultation exercise in July 2002. The Government announced the result of their consultation in November 2003. Your Lordships may recall that I repeated the then Home Secretary's Statement on 11 November 2003 which announced the Government's decision in principle to introduce identity cards. There was a Select Committee inquiry on identity cards by the Home Affairs Select Committee starting in 2003, which concluded the formal pre-legislative scrutiny of a draft Identity Cards Bill published in April 2004 and the Home Affairs Committee concluded that an identity card scheme could make a significant contribution to achieving the aim set out for it by the Government.

This first Bill passed through the other placed and was introduced into this House in February 2005. We have now reached the point where the current Bill, which has also been approved by the other place, is ready for its Second Reading in this House. I believe that the time has come when we might accept that the introduction of the Identity Cards Bill is a wise and sensible—indeed, some would say a common-sense—measure to protect our identities.

As has been said on many occasions, our identities are precious and need to be protected. The Identity Cards Bill establishes a clear legislative framework for the introduction of identity cards so that everyone aged 16 and over and resident in the United Kingdom will be able to hold a biometric identity card linked to a highly secure national identity register.

Clause 1 establishes clear statutory purposes. That means that there can be no confusion about what the scheme is to achieve. Clause 1(3)(a) makes it clear that the identity card scheme is first and foremost to provide individuals with a convenient method of proving their identity—that is exactly why most people want identity cards; they want to protect their own identity—and to enable us all to prove who we are when we choose to do so. The Cabinet Office's Identity Fraud: A Study, which was published in 2002, concluded that current means of identification are simply not secure or reliable enough. That is why the
 
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identity card scheme will use biometrics to link an individual to his or her single, unique identity. More and more we are being asked to prove our identity in everyday transactions, whether for proof of age or for proof of identity when opening a bank account. It does not make sense for people to have to use their passport or other documentary evidence, such as utility bills, for that. That is really not good enough. That is why in recent surveys more than 70 per cent of the public say that they support the identity cards. The latest Home Office research, published on 13 October this year, found that 73 per cent of the public support the introduction of identity cards.

The identity cards scheme is being introduced not only as a convenient way for individuals to prove their identity but because it is also necessary in the wider public interest. This is the second arm of the statutory purposes set out in Clause 1(3)(b) and (4). Public interest is defined in five ways, the first of which is national security. On their own, identity cards will not stop the risk of terrorism. We should be clear that identity cards on their own may not prevent suicide bombers, but they will disrupt the activities of those who aid and abet terrorism by hiding behind multiple and false identities. By making it harder, or impossible, to assume a false identity or to use multiple identities, it will be much more difficult for terrorists to operate and it will help the police and security services in their work. We have been advised that more than one third of terrorist suspects are known to have used false identities. Indeed, al-Qaeda's training manual requires its operatives to acquire false identities to hide their terrorist activities.

The second part of the public interest definition involves the prevention or detection of crime. This will not alter the relationship between the public and the police. As a result of the Bill, the police will have no new powers to demand proof of identity or to require people to produce an identity card in the street. Clause 15(3) precludes the making of regulations to require the carrying of an identity card at all times. However, I believe that it is right that the Bill should allow for the police to be provided with information from the national identity register to check an individual's identity without that individual's consent, provided that it can be justified for the prevention or detection of crime. However, Parliament will also be able to agree specific rules—provided for in Clause 23—about how information will be provided to the police or other organisations and at what level in the organisation the request must be approved. We have also protected the most sensitive area of the register—that is, the records of how the card or database entry has been checked previously—by the provisions in Paragraph 9 of Schedule 1 to the Bill. This audit log information can only be provided for purposes connected with the prevention and detection of serious crime or for the existing statutory purposes of the intelligence and security agencies.

The third part of the public interest definition involves the enforcement of immigration controls. Most people will be entered on the register when they apply for a designated document. Clauses 4 and
 
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10 provide for that. It is intended to designate British passports issued to UK residents. Once designated, anyone over 16 applying for a British passport will be entered on the national identity register and will then also be issued with an identity card. The passport and identity card will therefore be issued together as a package.

In the case of foreign residents, the intention is to designate the residence documents issued to foreign nationals and for those to double as an identity card. That means that once designated anyone applying for these documents and legally resident in the United Kingdom will have had their identity verified to the highest standard and will have been issued with a biometric ID card. I believe that this will act as a major deterrent to illegal immigration, as eventually everyone resident here legally will have a biometric ID card which will confirm his identity as well as his right to reside here.

The fourth part of the public interest definition involves the enforcement of prohibitions on illegal working. One of the key pull factors for illegal immigrants is our healthy economy, combined with the fact that even the most reputable of employers can find it difficult to know who is entitled to work here. In future, the possession of an identity card, which confirms an individual's right to reside and work in the United Kingdom, will make it very much easier for employers to ensure that they comply with the law.

The final public interest is to secure the efficient and effective provision of public services. Clauses 15 to 17 allow Parliament to approve regulations for public services to require an identity card to be produced before an individual accesses a particular service. Parliament will have to approve individual regulations for individual services, and there are obligations on the Government to consult about any proposals. However, the principle, we believe, is surely right, that when seeking access to a public service, such as free health treatment or applying for the payment of state benefits, an individual should be asked to produce an identity card that confirms his or her identity as a first step in proving entitlement to the service. Of course, as we have always made clear, this will not interfere with delivery of emergency healthcare or other services, and it will not be a requirement to produce an identity card for the payment of benefits or free public services, until it becomes compulsory to register and hold an ID card.

Much of the cost of introducing identity cards will need to be incurred in any case to keep our passports up to acceptable international standards. That includes the plans we have already announced for the introduction of personal interviews for all first-time passport applicants, starting next year and for facial image biometric passports, which will also start to be issued next year. Some 80 per cent of adults already hold a passport so it makes good sense for us to build on the existing plans for biometric passports to provide our own biometric identity card scheme.

Biometrics may appear to be a new concept, but we have been using fingerprints to identify people for more than 100 years. The Bill defines "biometric
 
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information" in Clause 43 as being, "data about . . . external characteristics". That allows for 13 separate biometrics to be recorded. Here I have to resist demonstrating the following "one facial image, 10 fingers and two eyes". Noble Lords can see how that might be applied in other circumstances.

Current plans allow for the issue of the first identity cards in 2008 through a new agency incorporating the United Kingdom Passport Service, and working closely with the Immigration and Nationality Directorate of the Home Office. By building on the UK passport service, we will be using an agency that in recent years has achieved an enviable reputation for customer service. Last year, the service was the only UK organisation nominated for the prestigious international Carl Bertelsmann award for public sector efficiency and it won a record fifth Charter Mark. The United Kingdom Passport Service has also carried out a trial of biometric enrolment with a sample of 10,000 individuals to test the practicalities of enrolling biometrics. That included using a mobile enrolment unit that could travel to rural areas as well as offshore islands.

Identity fraud costs this country an estimated £1.3 billion per year. It also creates real concerns for those of us at risk and real problems for victims of those fraudsters. Shredding personal and financial documents is not enough; we need a secure way to prove our identity and prevent others from stealing it. Once the scheme is introduced, we estimate that the total average annual running cost for issuing passports and ID cards to UK nationals will be £584 million. The Bill provides at Clause 37 for a range of services to be covered by fees, including approving an organisation before it can make checks against the register and usage fees for identity checks themselves. It is right that organisations benefiting from the checks should fund those costs.

We have said all along that we expect most people to get their ID card with their passport. That will be the most convenient way to participate in the scheme and will give people the full benefits associated with having the most secure travel documents, which can be used worldwide. Our current best estimate of the average unit cost of a combined passport and ID card package is £93. This is not a £100 ID card, as some critics have suggested; £93 is the cost for both products, passport and ID card, and about 70 per cent of that cost would be incurred anyway because of the worldwide move to biometric passports. Some people may choose to obtain a stand-alone ID card. They may, for instance, have never travelled abroad and want only to travel to Europe, for which the identity card will be valid.

Since the previous Bill was discussed, the identity cards project has been through a further Office of Government Commerce review, Gateway 1, on business justification and the review confirmed that the project is ready to proceed to the next phase. Within our current financial estimates of the scheme as a whole, it will be affordable to set a charge at current
 
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prices for a stand-alone ID card valid for 10 years of £30. No one who wants to protect their identity need pay more.

As I explained, we expect that most people will obtain their ID card when they apply for a British passport or a foreign national's residence permit. However, the Government have been clear that the identity card scheme to be introduced is designed to become compulsory. We therefore need to have the debate on the principle of compulsion now. The provisions on compulsion are in Clauses 6, 7 and 9 and concern the timing of compulsion and the precise categories of people who will be required to register. It will be possible to phase that requirement in for different categories at different times and to exempt certain groups—such as the very elderly, perhaps.

The Government must publish our reasons for compulsion; allow both Houses of Parliament to comment on our proposal for compulsion; and take account of those comments before laying an order before both Houses. Under that so-called super-affirmative procedure, both Houses must then agree to the order setting a date for compulsion. The means of enforcing the compulsion to register are via civil financial penalties. It will not be a criminal offence to fail to register when the scheme is compulsory. We do not see the need to burden the police or the criminal courts with enforcing the scheme; we will use civil means. Clauses 34 and 35 set out the procedure for objecting to or appealing against any civil penalty that may be imposed.

I am grateful to the Joint Committee on Human Rights for its contribution to the debate on the Government's proposals. I have read its latest report on the Identity Cards Bill published on 24 October. I must repeat that the Government are confident that our identity card proposals are compatible with our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. The fact is that 21 of the 25 EU member states already have an identity card scheme.

Apart from the United Kingdom and Ireland, only Latvia and Denmark do not currently have ID cards. Latvia has already announced plans to introduce them in 2006, and Denmark already has a national central persons register, which contains identity and address details, with a unique number to identify every resident. The Government believe that the limitations placed on the information that may be held on a national identity register and the safeguards that regulate the information that may be disclosed from the register ensure that any interference with Article 8 rights will be proportionate.

I am grateful to the Select Committee on the Constitution for its report, published on 24 October. It includes as an annex my letter of 19 September to the chairman, which set out my reasons for not accepting that the introduction of the Identity Cards Bill is of such constitutional significance as the committee suggested. I am confident that the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, who is in his place, will want to say something about that in due course.
 
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I can confirm that a delegated powers memorandum on the Bill was submitted to the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform on 24 October. The Identity Cards Bill is enabling legislation, so it could not be expected to include all the detailed administrative procedures for the cards scheme. There are many delegated powers, but many relate to essentially the same issue; for example, the application process for an ID card and the format of the card itself. The Government will of course look very carefully at the views of the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform when its report on the Bill is published.

We intend that the first biometric identity cards should be issued in 2008. There will be further opportunities between now and then for noble Lords to look at the detailed provisions to be set out in secondary legislation. The simple fact is that the possession of a clear, unequivocal and unique form of identity in the shape of a card linked to a database holding biometrics will offer clear benefits to us all.

I will listen extremely carefully to noble Lords' points on the Bill and on the practical implementation of the identity cards scheme. However, the Government are convinced that the introduction of identity cards is in the interests of the nation. I therefore commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Baroness Scotland of Asthal.)

3.27 pm


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