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Lord Waddington: My Lords, the Government have said that the scheme will be self-financing. People will have to pay whatever is necessary to meet the costs of the scheme. That is my understanding of it. Moreover, identity cards were issued free during the Second World War.
Lord Holme of Cheltenham: My Lords, as the first speaker from these Benches since the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Soley, perhaps I may add my congratulations to him on a very refreshing and thoughtful speech. Those of us who have known and admired his work over the years were not at all surprised by that. I hope that we shall hear from him often.
Most of the contributions to this debate have been and will be about the merits and/or disadvantages of an identity card scheme. However, I want to confine myself much more closely than that. I want simply to speak about the potential constitutional implications of such a scheme and the appropriate safeguards that we might wish to put in place against its abuse. That will allow me to be relatively brief.
I have no doubt that the Constitution Committee, of which I have the honour to serve as chairman, has among its members both supporters and opponents of the notion of ID cards, but for the life of me I could not tell the House which are which because that has not been the subject of our discussions. Whatever our individual point of view, all of us were agreedon a cross-party and no-party basisthat this Bill fundamentally adjusts the relationship between the
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citizen and the state. How could it be otherwise when it will put the state in possession of an unprecedented, consolidated file of information about every individual which it did not have before? However, the Government do not agree. In her generous letter sent to myself and to other members of the committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, dismissed the notion that the Bill could be considered as constitutionally significant for the reason we gave. The burden of her response was that the scheme should be treated as an administrative change not dissimilar in kind from other data collection schemes the Government have put in hand from time to time. On the face of it, that is a straightforward disagreement, but I invite noble Lords to consider, in an instance like this, whose judgment should be trusted.
I yield to no one in my admiration for the noble Baroness. She is always extremely persuasive and convincing. I mention the Home Office with some hesitation when following a very distinguished former Home Secretary in this debate. Here is a great department of state with many qualities, but I doubt whether any noble Lords, looking back over the years, would think of the Home Office primarily as a bastion of the defence of human rights and individual liberties. Possibly there might have been a brief, golden exception during the period of tenure of the late Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, but despite the qualities of the Home Office that is not the first thing we think of. On the other hand, your Lordships set up a Select Committee on the Constitution to function expressly as a watchdog, and now we have barked. What is more, we seem to be barking in the same key as the Information Commissioner and the Law Society.
Our concerns centre far more on the notion of the register than on whether individuals are required to hold an identity card. I invite the noble Baroness to take on board legitimate concerns about the concentration of extensive personal information in the hands of the Government, particularly in an age when that is made more potent by the advances in technology and data storage, which allows data to be mined and cross-referenced with ease and which lends itself to fishing expeditions of one kind or another. We must be very careful that we do not reach a point where the citizen and his or her life are at the disposal of the state rather than the other way round.
"we nonetheless continue to believe that it is important to ensure, irrespective of the Bill's merits or the benefits claimed for it (issues which are beyond our remit), that the scheme is conducted upon a strong legal basis and that adequate safeguards are in place to protect individuals from excessive intrusion into their affairs by institutions of State, or indeed by othersin other words, to 'future proof' it against the potential for abuse of the registration scheme by officials of the State claiming to act in the public interest".
The Constitution Committee therefore concluded that if this measure does command the support of Parliamentfor security, crime or other reasons that have been giventhree safeguards are essential. Firstother noble Lords have referred to thisthere should be no question of the legislation in the Bill
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authorising a seamless transition from an essentially voluntary partial trial to universal compulsory application without reverting to Parliament with new primary legislation. In her introductory remarks, the Minister invited us to consider the principle of compulsion now. With respect, we are considering compulsion now. That cannot be good parliamentary practice in general, but it is particularly inappropriate for a measure of this kind, with implications for every citizen.
The second safeguard is that a body independent of the Government should be the custodian of the national identity register, with proper safeguards to prevent improper access to data, whether by public servants or by others. Finally, we have suggested that the proposed National Identity Scheme Commissioner should be clearly independent of the Government, with the power to investigate complaints and a duty to report directly to Parliament.
Your Lordships will take differing views on this legislationas is already apparentbut I invite you to consider these proposed safeguards. I hope that they will be helpful to our deliberations today and at later stages of the Bill.
Baroness Henig: My Lords, I wish to speak in support of the Bill and, in doing so, deal first with issues of principle and then move on to issues of practicality. I should at the outset declare an interest as president of the Association of Police Authorities but, as its members have not endorsed any agreed policy on identity cards, my views should not be taken to reflect those of the 45 police authorities which comprise the association. More significant in shaping my views on identity cards is the six years I spent chairing the Lancaster Community Safety Partnership, although, again, I am not speaking on its behalf today.
Let me start with the observation, already referred to, that we are living in a rapidly changing world which has two important characteristicsthat is, it is global in scale and digital in technology. A growing number of organisations, public and private, desirable and less desirable, keep tabs on us through our mobile phones, security cameras, our store cards and our credit cards. Whether we like it or not, we are being constantly tracked and our privacy is being invaded to an extent we are certainly unaware of and by individuals we almost certainly do not know. Thus the environment in which we live our lives is very different from that of 30 years ago. That change in itself, in my view, necessitates a rebalancing of citizen rights and state responsibilities. It is for that reason that I have no problem with the principles underlying the Bill.
I know that my Liberal Democrat friends and others of a radical persuasion are opposed on principle to what they see as intrusive legislation which attacks our privacy and hard-won civil liberties. I know they argue that it will further weaken the rights of the individual in the face of an increasingly authoritarian government. I understand their concerns, but I do not
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share them. Furthermore, as a historian, I find the recent assertion by a Front-Bench Tory spokesman in the other place that this legislation represents the greatest threat to our liberty since the Norman Conquest ludicrous. A greater threat than Napoleon or Hitler? How can I, most of whose family was murdered by the Nazi state, take such an argument seriously?
On the basis of recent experience, my concern is not about a Big Brother state. My concern is to stop criminals stealing my identity to spend my money and cash my cheques, which they have had some success in attempting to do in the past three years. Figures show the full extent of this: there was more than £500 million worth of credit card fraud last year and £250 million of insurance fraud the year before, not to mention extensive benefit fraud. I want to intercept the plans of would-be terrorists who want to blow me up or poison me or find some other way to threaten my existence. So I want a strong state and an effective and efficient police and intelligence service, and I know that a lot of people in this country share my priorities.
Some years ago, there was a chorus of liberal and radical objectors in the area of north Lancashire where I live when the proposal to install town-centre security cameras was first mooted. They argued that the cameras would be intrusive, undermine and destroy our hard-won civil liberties, and create a Big Brother state. A modest number of cameras was installed and after six months, the clamour was of a different kindof local people wanting more cameras and wanting them quickly. Their presence made people feel more securealthough, paradoxically, because they recorded some crimes that had never before been reported, reported levels of violent crime increased. They have proved their use in a great variety of ways, not least in the aftermath of the 7 July attacks. As was pointed out in another place, in a debate earlier this year, the UK now has more CCTV cameras per head of population than any other countryaround 4 million in total. And this is as a result of public demand.
For me, therefore, the issue is one not of principle but of practicality and utility. In what ways will ID cards be of benefit to the man in the street? Will they, as in the case of CCTV, make people in the area where I live feel safer? Will they enable people more easily to thwart attempts to steal their identities and their hard-earned cash, and to access the services to which they are entitled? I think they will and, perhaps equally importantly, one card will serve all these purposes and also satisfy the bank, the building society and any other body which wants to check that we are who we say we are.
Speak to residents in any one of the 21 European Union countries which have ID cards to find out what a range of uses they have and how indispensable they are. Millions of Europeans on the other side of the North Sea, as my noble friend has already pointed out, wonder what on earth we are making such a fuss about in opposing the concept of ID cards.
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ID cards will also be of considerable help to the police, as we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, in investigating and reducing crime, bringing criminals to court and trying to break up organised criminal networks. I am sure that the Department for Work and Pensions will also find them helpful in cracking down on benefit fraud and on illegal working. I stress that I am not looking to exaggerate the role ID cards might play, that would not be helpful, but I am in no doubt that identity cards will have a great variety of benefits.
I have no problems with the concept, but I do have concerns about cost, both in overall terms and the cost to the individual, the feasibility of the technology involved and, most seriously, the scale of the project and how to ensure that the different elements are delivered within budget, on time and in a fully effective way. The recent announcement about a £30 charge for a stand-alone card has reassured me on the cost to the individual. It is a reasonable sum, which can be paid in instalments and there is time between now and 2008 to consider concessions for the most vulnerable and those on small fixed incomes. We must similarly ensure easy access to the centres where individual information will be registered in the first place.
The progress of the technology poses greater problems, especially for a lay person such as me, when experts are divided about how reliable and intelligent current biometric processes are. However, I note that a biometric assurance group is being set up by the Government, which will be chaired by the Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir David King. I welcome that, particularly when there are so many claims and counterclaims being made about the practicality or otherwise of iris scans and the biometric recording of older faces. I very much hope that this group will be able to give us regular reports on the efficacy of the technology and what we can realistically expect our cards to record reliably in terms of our unique personal details.
There is also the issue of how much detail needs to go on the database. There has been argument in the other place about recording addresses in view of the high percentage of the population, particularly younger people, who moved frequently. I shall be interested to debate in due course the best way of dealing with that issue.
My greatest anxiety is about the procurement process itself, because this IT projectas we have already heardinvolving cards and a massive database, will be one of the biggest IT projects ever attempted. We need to ask how it will be scrutinised and by what processes it will be subject to internal and external review and scrutiny. We need to be assured that costs will not escalate and that there will not be scope creep or function creep. We also need to know how the substantial risks to the project will be assessed and continually kept under review. Recent history does not give us strong grounds for optimism on those points. We can all cite government projects whose costs have spiralled and whose IT systems could not cope with the demands placed on them. I want this
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scheme to succeed, but I need reassurance that the lessons of previous government failures in relation to large and expensive IT schemes have been learned.
I take comfort from the fact that the whole project will be dealt with in phases and that it will be three years before the first cards are issued. That incremental approach is the right one. It will give time to work systematically through the different elements of the programme, starting with the passport changes that are needed and then moving to link passports and ID cards. I hope that during that time it will be possible for parliamentary scrutiny in some form to oversee the process and that there will be full and open reports about progress. If the card and the database prove to be as useful to people as CCTV cameras have been for city centre surveillance, and if millions of people decide that they do want to have them sooner rather than laterwhich would not surprise me at allI hope that the systems then in place will have the capacity to deliver quickly and accurately and to satisfy public demand within budget.
For me, the bottom line is the needs of the citizen. The man in the street will be the major arbiter of this project. When it proves to be useful to people and brings the added value in their daily transactions that I am confident it will, when it makes people feel more secure, as I feel it will, I know that it will be successful and worth while. That is why it is so crucial to focus on minimising the practical obstacles and the major risk factors that we know will be an inevitable part of the project. I look forward to debating these issues further in Committee.
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