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Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, as ever, I thank the Minister for setting out the Government's case with such care and charm that, for one passing moment, it could seem the most reasonable thing in the world to believe that they were doing us all a big favour by bringing forward this Bill. But that moment passes rapidly and we return to reality.
The Cabinet's obsession with its version of identity cards means that we now face the prospect of a national identity register and all the expensive and intrusive bureaucracy that that will entail. It has made extravagant claims about the effectiveness and the benefits of its scheme. It is being extravagant with the money of every individual in this land by proposing to spend vast sums on the national register, sums that could perhaps be better spent on more police, more border controls and better public services.
Of course it is vital for the Government to maintain a balance between the interests of the citizen and the role of the state. Of course it is the duty of the state to protect the lives of its citizens. But the duty to protect that life must be balanced by the duty to protect our way of life.
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Before 9/11, as I said before, I would not have countenanced ID cards; after that, I accepted that we should at least consider them. We should always examine very carefully any measures that may enhance the nation's security, but at the same time we must maintain a proper degree of proportionality.
The Government failed to come up to proof during the debates on the Bill in another place, despite the sterling efforts of my honourable friends to press them to be more open about the vital details behind this framework legislation. The Minister has referred to what the Government call "extensive pre-legislative scrutiny" over a period of a year or two. So far, that scrutiny has lacked one vital element: participation by this House. As the noble Baroness has reminded us, all we have been allowed so far over here is a mere sniff at the Bill at Second Reading in March of this year before the Government called an early election. Now it comes before us after further debate in another place, but with no real progress to report. So we need to make progress in improving the Bill in this House where it is right to do so.
The noble Baroness also referred to the public support for and the popularity of ID cards, but it is important to note that as the debate has gone ahead about the real costs and what kind of card this might be, that support has faltered and, from the Government's point of view, has at times failed dramatically.
There are several vital issues that we will need to look at carefully and in a quiet, considered way throughout our debates. Others may get a little more heated; including myself. For example, the Government make a great play of saying that the Bill does not make it compulsory to carry an ID card, but that is a red herring. The problem is that, as the Bill is currently drafted, it will be compulsory to register from the very beginning of the scheme, if the Government get their way.
First, they were not prepared to come clean about the implications of their Bill in the manifesto. On Report in another place, the Minister's honourable friend Mr Neil Gerrard, the Member for Walthamstow, quoted from that document:
"We will introduce ID cards, including biometric data like fingerprints, backed up by a national register and rolling out initially on a voluntary basis as people renew their passports".[Official Report, Commons, 18/10/05; col. 748.]
As Mr Gerrard pointed out, Clause 5 imposes an unacceptable element of compulsion to register for an ID card even at a time when the card system is supposed to be voluntary. If you want to apply for or renew a passport or perhaps a driving licence, the Government will force you to enter your details on the ID card register even if you have decided that during the voluntary period you do not under any circumstances want to have an ID card. That cannot be right.
Secondly, I find it unacceptable that the Government apparently intend to prevent this House modifying or rejecting the super-affirmative process that would herald the transition of the scheme from being voluntary to compulsory. I cite here col. 216 of
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the Committee proceedings in another place held on 12 July. The Third Report of the Constitution Committee also recommends that the move to compulsion should be by primary legislation, not by statutory instrument.
Last week I raised these issues with the Minister, Mr Andy Burnham, at the Government's briefing meeting. I was glad that he was able to attend. He said that he recognised that there were difficulties with the super-affirmative procedure and that he was prepared to debate replacing it with a requirement for primary legislation. I recognise that while his response was not a commitment, it was constructive and I too shall respond in a constructive way by tabling amendments in Committee to start the debate rolling at that stage.
In the debates in another place we set out five reasonable tests to determine whether the Bill is a proportionate and effective response to the Government's perceived need for ID cards. The Government failed to pass them. We will table amendments to give them the opportunity to try to come up to proof in this House. The first test is that of clarity of purpose. Not only must the Government make clear the specific purposes for which an ID card is required, they must also make it clear which of those purposes are priorities, otherwise it will be difficult to assess them.
In the debate leading up to the Bill, during the consultation process and again here today, the Government have claimed that a national ID card is needed to reduce crime, illegal immigration, identity fraud and to tackle terrorism; the list goes on. But to say that that is what these cards would achieve does not prove the case in itself. We need evidence rather than just words. And I note that the Minister has said today that the Government already recognise that sadly ID cards would not have prevented the atrocities that took place last July in London. I agree with the briefing from the National Assembly Against Racism, which points out that little evidence has been provided on the effectiveness of the card and the national identity register in fighting illegal immigration and undocumented working; against terrorism and identity theft.
The second test is that of technology and its capabilities. The system must of course be robust from start to finish: from the card to the biometric reader, through the communication system and into the central computer, database and software. It must be impossible for a virus to enter the system because, if it were to do so, it would cause mayhem. It could create and conceal multiple identities, thus corrupting the system's core purpose.
The fact is that biometric technology is fallible. It is estimated that one in six people would not be able to get identity cards because their biometric data may not be properly recordable on a card's implanted chip. The Government Minister, Mr McNulty, recently admitted, of course, that there are problems with the technology capturing people with brown eyes; we also know that scanning carried out in the wrong type of light or in shadow could lead to an inaccurate
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identification; and if you are baldwell, watch out. Trials have demonstrated that the biometrics of black, elderly and disabled people also have a higher chance of being incorrectly matched. They would find it, therefore, hard to gain access to services which one day will be gate-kept by the possession of an identity card.
The third test is whether the Government can run the system. We know this would be the most ambitious technology project this country has ever seen. We also know that the Government have a less than perfect record in overseeing large-scale projects. As the noble Baroness has said before, we are coming back to a familiar themebut then, the Government are forcing us to do so. The most recent examples of failure include those of the Child Support Agency computer and the national fingerprint identification system. Both of these look like modest projects when compared with the proposal to set up a national identity register of the complexity constructed in the Bill.
Lord Hunt of Chesterton: My Lords, is the noble Baroness saying that all IT systems in this country do not work? I can reel off some of the most enormous complexityfor example, the change of the air traffic control system and the movement of the computers of the Meteorological Office. The noble Baroness should make her selections rather more judiciously.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I am delighted to respond to the noble Lord because obviously he did not quite catch my first words. I said that something of this complexity is far beyond anything that has gone before. I recognise the work that he has done in the Meteorological Office to enable the transfer down to Exeter, I believe it was, and the success that it has had. I am a frequent user of the website. The Minister has been careful in what she has chosen to refer to, including one year of the Passport Agency. I have commended the Passport Agency on the work it has carried out in combating the most appalling difficulties it faced, as a result of government action, in catching up with some of the work it had to do. We will look in detail at these problems in Committee.
We have made it clear that we accept that all governments face difficulties with complex systems. The Government's choice here is perhaps the most complex system that man or woman could devise, and yet they provide us with a blank cheque of 60 statutory instruments. When the Government were cross-examined, they failed to produce a draft of a single statutory instrument in the process of the Bill passing through another place twice. Nor did they honour an offer they made in Committee in another place when they said they would bring forward a draft of the code of guidance on penalties. So I take no lessons from the Government, but I certainly hope to join them in school in Committee to see whether we can improve the Bill.
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I have taken about two more minutes than I should have done; I apologise to the House for my enthusiastic riposte to the noble Lord. The fourth test is to consider the cost-effectiveness of the scheme. I shall leave that to other noble Lords who have gone through the LSE report and the Government's responses.
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