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The Lord Bishop of Oxford: My Lords, it is a particular personal pleasure to thank the noble Lord, Lord Soley, of Hammersmith in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, because I had the pleasure and privilege of being vicar of All Saints, Fulham, from 1972 to 1981, when he was a very active councillor on Hammersmith and Fulham Council and a Member of Parliament for part of the area in which I served. As many of us know, he has very wide experience, not just as a probation officer, but also through a wide range of interests both from his local council days and from the time when he was in the other House. He will also bring a lightness of touch to our debates. I believe I can say on behalf of the House that we are extremely grateful that you have been banged up. May you be banged up for a very long time.
I very much respect and value privacymy own and that of other people. Nevertheless, I cannot bring myself to oppose identity cards in principle. The Government already have access to a great deal of information about us, to which the noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington, has already drawn attention, much of which is widely available in the public realm. I do not object to such information being collated and centralised on an identity card if such cards are really in the public interest and if they really serve the interest that they set out to serve. But as many other noble Lords have already asked, will they achieve their stated purpose and will they do so without significant detriment to other aspects of public interest?
The Home Affairs Committee points out that many democracies have identity card schemes without detriment to civil liberties, but the effects depend on the details of how such information is used and disclosed. Much of that is dependent on the future use of the Secretary of State's powers to regulate through secondary legislation, which itself is a large extension of executive discretion.
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Many anxieties have been voiced about function-creep, notably by Richard Thomas, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury. The Information Commissioner will certainly be expected to know about these matters.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights, in its fifth report of 2005, expressed a number of anxieties about whether and how the operation of the scheme will be limited to its stated statutory purposes in respect of the personal information to be included on the register; the potential for information to be recorded without the knowledge or consent of the individual concerned; the making of contracts or services conditional on production of a card or access to the register; the potential for extensive data sharing in order to confirm information on the register; and the disclosure of information to public bodies without justifiable limits and safeguards.
It is also apparent that even without the introduction of compulsory registration, ID cards will effectively be compulsory for people in certain categories and circumstances, especially foreign nationals. It may be that we need some super-affirmative procedures, not just for introducing the compulsory nature of the scheme but for the use of some of the other powers of the Secretary of State.
How will the cards work in practice? The first public interest benefit is that of working against terrorism. It is estimated that two thirds of terrorists operate under their own identity, but others would still be able to create a false identity. What particularly worries me is the existence of a high-integrity scheme which might even strengthen the position of terrorists who are able to manipulate it. The Minister in opening said that identity cards would create obstacles for those who assist terrorists by providing funding, false identities and secret locations. I accept that, but if a terrorist obtained a false identity card, society would be put at an even greater risk.
The second public interest benefit is that it will help in the broader struggle against crime prevention, but we know that that is heavily contested. The Law Society argues that in crime detection the main problem lies not in establishing an individual's identity but in linking the individual to a particular crime.
The third and fourth public interest reasons are the aims of preventing illegal immigration and illegal working. But we know that they depend on employers operating identity checks conscientiously and efficiently. The prevention of identity theft and fraud must contend with sophisticated forms of counterfeiting and requires absolute security in the enrolment process. Given the number of people who work day and night in order to break into computer systems around the world, I suspect that already some people are trying to work out how they might devise false identities if the scheme is introduced. We are up against some sophisticated and intelligent people.
As has already been mentionedI shall refer to it only brieflythe real worry is expressed by members of minority ethnic communities as regards the purpose of law enforcement, illegal immigration and terrorism.
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There is a real concern that that will mean even more targeting of black and Asian people. The earlier concerns echoed by the Home Affairs Committee, which have to some extent been taken into account by the Government, still exist in the minds of many people.
I shall not mention the other concerns because other people are much better qualified to speak on them. A great many problems with the technical operation of the scheme and its cost are often discussed and there is a huge disparity between the figures that we have heard from the Government on the one hand and the LSE on the other. I hope that by the end of this debate we can have some agreement about what the scheme will cost because it seems that it will be a very large amount indeed.
In conclusion, the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, said that he is very glad that he is not on someone's list, but we are already on a lot of people's lists. We need to take seriously what is in the public interest. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, does. In principle, I support the idea of identity cards, but more work clearly has to be done to convince people that they are in the public interest. The real worry is that if the scheme went wrong in certain areas it might do a great deal more harm than good.
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, I rise to support the Identity Cards Bill but first I add my voice to the complimentary remarks of the right reverend Prelate about the outstanding maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Soley. It was no less than we would expect from a parliamentarian of his skill and experience. We look forward to hearing much from him in future.
I speak on the Bill as one who, in the course of my government service, lived for five years in Finland and three years in Sweden. Both countries are recognised throughout the world as vibrant, strong democracies with traditions of transparency equal to any democracy, including our own. Both countries have identity card systems with national identity numbers. In their cases, the numbers are given at birth and indicate date and place of birth and gender. We propose in the Bill to offer registration only to those aged 16 and over, which fits with our age of issue of an adult passport, the allocation of a national insurance number and the minimum school leaving age.
In Finland, there is an appropriate formula for incoming resident adult foreigners, as I was, as a diplomat. In Sweden, the system came in in the mid-1960s, largely at the urging of the police. It is compulsory to be registered and to have an identity number, but it is not compulsory to carry an ID card, although most people always do because it is such a convenient, useful, reliable and simple way to identify yourself at the bank, post office and so on.
Nordic friends are as bewildered as I am at some of the objections being voiced in Britain about identity cards. They wonder what there is to be afraid of, unless you are trying to hide something about tax, social
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security or something even worse and criminal. They also find it ludicrous, as do I, that we are asked currently to prove our identity by a variety of easily faked papers, such as utility bills.
It is seems to me that there are two serious aspects of security for individuals that would be addressed by the use of a national identity register and identity cards. The first is securing and safeguarding your own identity and rendering it as difficult as possible for anyone to steal it for minor or major crime. At the present time, identity theft is rife, as the impressive speech of the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, made so strikingly clear to us. I cannot be alone in this House in having had the horribly unnerving experience of being telephoned by my bank and told of unusual transactions being carried out apparently with one of my credit cards that I had all the time safely in my possession. Identity theft is disturbing for individuals who are targeted and might incur financial loss and also for society when, in addition to financial loss, which the Home Office estimates is costing the country some £1.3 billion per year, stolen identity is used for all kinds of criminal, including terrorist, activity.
The second aspect of individual security, which I have heard expressed by those from countries with ID card systems, is that it is disturbing and worrying to be in a country where the identities of those surrounding you cannot be assumed to be genuine because there is no rational and standard method for personal identity to be proved.
I turn to the question of costs. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, extolled the LSE claims on costs, which differ from the Home Office. I do not want to get sidetracked on to the details of those differences. Like the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, I would rather leave it to other people to argue the figures. But the LSE report contains a number of inaccuracies about the schemefor example, it refers to a five-year document renewal and there are unsubstantiated assumptions like the marketing costs, which, I would submit, inflate the cost estimates rather unfairly.
I remind the House that the Bill is not making ID cards compulsory, although I have to say personally that I sincerely hope that that will in due course be approved by Parliament when the time comes. The estimated cost for a biometric ID card alone, valid for 10 years, which would allow travel throughout the EU as well as providing the advantages of having a recognised and reliable proof of identity, is £30. I do not think that that is excessive, and I am sure that when the ID card becomes compulsory, ways will be found to enable those who genuinely cannot pay £30 to obtain a card. The cost of a combined biometric passport and ID card is currently estimated by the Home Office to be about £93, of which some 70 per cent is made up of the cost of the passport; and, whether we like it or not, biometric passports are
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coming to stay in this country and others. I also remind the House that the manifesto on which the Labour Party stood and a Labour Government were elected last May, contained the following quotationI use the quotation used by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and I completely fail to understand her problems with this wording
I am not speaking about the Salisbury convention, or any other convention. I am saying to this House that we are, in this Bill, doing what we promised the British people we would do. I urge the House to accept that.
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